Anthropologically Strange

Anthropologically Strange

Definition of Anthropologically Strange

The term “anthropologically strange” refers to the practice of examining familiar situations, behaviors, or cultural practices as if they are completely unfamiliar or alien. This approach involves adopting an outsider’s perspective to gain fresh insights and a deeper understanding of everyday phenomena that might otherwise be taken for granted. By treating the familiar as strange, researchers and observers can uncover underlying assumptions, cultural norms, and social dynamics that are often overlooked.

This concept is particularly useful in anthropology and sociology, where it helps researchers challenge their own biases and assumptions, allowing them to see the subject of their study with new eyes. The goal is to achieve a more objective and comprehensive understanding of the cultural or social phenomenon under investigation by distancing oneself from preconceived notions and approaching it as an outsider might.

Explanation of Anthropologically Strange

Understanding the concept of “anthropologically strange” involves exploring its origins, methodologies, implications, and applications in sociological and anthropological research. This approach is fundamental for gaining deeper insights into cultural practices and social behaviors that are often taken for granted.

Origins and Theoretical Framework

The idea of treating familiar situations as anthropologically strange has its roots in the broader methodologies of anthropology and sociology, particularly in ethnographic research and cultural relativism.

  1. Ethnographic Research: Ethnography involves the detailed study of people and cultures through direct observation, participation, and immersion. Researchers often strive to adopt an “anthropologically strange” perspective to avoid ethnocentrism and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural context they are studying.
  2. Cultural Relativism: Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual’s beliefs and behaviors should be understood in the context of their own culture, rather than judged against the criteria of another culture. By treating familiar situations as strange, researchers can more effectively apply cultural relativism, avoiding bias and gaining a more nuanced understanding of cultural practices.
  3. De-familiarization: This concept is closely related to the idea of de-familiarization, a technique used to make the familiar appear unfamiliar, thereby encouraging deeper reflection and analysis. This technique is commonly used in literature and art but is also applicable in social sciences to challenge conventional thinking.


Adopting an anthropologically strange perspective involves specific methodologies that help researchers distance themselves from their own cultural assumptions and biases.

  1. Participant Observation: Researchers immerse themselves in the culture or community they are studying, observing and participating in everyday activities while maintaining an objective stance. This method allows them to experience the culture from within while treating familiar practices as if they are encountering them for the first time.
  2. Reflexivity: Reflexivity involves the researcher reflecting on their own background, biases, and impact on the research process. By acknowledging their own cultural lens, researchers can strive to see familiar situations from a new and unbiased perspective.
  3. Comparative Analysis: Comparing familiar practices with those from other cultures can help researchers identify what is unique or taken for granted in their own culture. This comparative approach highlights differences and similarities, making the familiar appear strange and worthy of deeper investigation.
  4. Questioning Assumptions: Researchers actively question their assumptions about everyday phenomena, asking why certain practices exist and what cultural meanings they hold. This critical questioning helps uncover the deeper significance of familiar behaviors.

Implications and Applications

The practice of treating familiar situations as anthropologically strange has significant implications for sociological and anthropological research, as well as practical applications in various fields.

  1. Uncovering Hidden Norms: By examining familiar situations as strange, researchers can uncover hidden cultural norms, values, and assumptions that shape behavior and social interactions. This deeper understanding can reveal the underlying logic of cultural practices.
  2. Challenging Stereotypes: This approach helps challenge stereotypes and simplistic understandings of cultural practices, promoting a more nuanced and respectful view of diverse cultures. It encourages researchers to move beyond surface-level interpretations.
  3. Enhancing Cross-Cultural Understanding: Treating familiar situations as strange fosters greater cross-cultural understanding by highlighting the diversity of human experiences and perspectives. It helps bridge cultural gaps and fosters empathy.
  4. Improving Research Objectivity: This practice enhances research objectivity by reducing the influence of the researcher’s cultural biases. It promotes a more impartial and balanced analysis of social phenomena.
  5. Innovative Problem-Solving: In practical applications, such as business or policy-making, adopting an anthropologically strange perspective can lead to innovative problem-solving by challenging conventional approaches and encouraging creative thinking.

 Real-World Examples

  1. Everyday Rituals: Common rituals, such as shaking hands, greeting customs, or mealtime practices, can be examined as anthropologically strange. By questioning why these rituals exist and what they signify, researchers can uncover cultural norms related to politeness, hygiene, or social hierarchy.
  2. Consumer Behavior: In marketing and consumer research, treating familiar purchasing behaviors as strange can reveal underlying motivations, cultural values, and social influences that drive consumer choices. This perspective can lead to more effective marketing strategies.
  3. Educational Practices: Examining familiar educational practices, such as classroom interactions, grading systems, or disciplinary methods, as anthropologically strange can reveal the cultural assumptions and values that underpin educational systems. This can inform efforts to create more inclusive and culturally responsive educational environments.
  4. Workplace Norms: Analyzing common workplace practices, such as meetings, dress codes, or hierarchical structures, from an anthropologically strange perspective can reveal the cultural norms and power dynamics that shape organizational behavior. This insight can inform efforts to improve workplace culture and inclusivity.
  5. Healthcare Practices: Treating familiar healthcare practices, such as doctor-patient interactions, diagnostic procedures, or treatment protocols, as strange can reveal cultural assumptions about health, illness, and authority. This perspective can enhance cultural competence in healthcare delivery.

Sociological Perspective

From a sociological perspective, treating familiar situations as anthropologically strange provides valuable insights into the construction and maintenance of social norms, power dynamics, and cultural meanings.

  1. Social Construction of Reality: This approach highlights how social reality is constructed through shared meanings, norms, and practices. By treating the familiar as strange, researchers can explore how these constructions are maintained and challenged.
  2. Power and Dominance: Examining familiar situations as strange can reveal power dynamics and structures of dominance that are often taken for granted. This perspective helps identify how power is exercised and legitimized in everyday interactions.
  3. Symbolic Interactionism: The concept aligns with symbolic interactionism, which focuses on how individuals create and interpret symbols and meanings in social interactions. Treating familiar symbols and interactions as strange can reveal the complex processes of meaning-making.
  4. Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism: This approach promotes cultural relativism by encouraging researchers to understand cultural practices on their own terms, rather than through an ethnocentric lens. It challenges researchers to see beyond their cultural assumptions.
  5. Critical Sociology: Treating familiar situations as strange aligns with critical sociology, which seeks to question and challenge social norms, power structures, and inequalities. This perspective fosters critical thinking and social change.


The concept of “anthropologically strange” is a powerful tool in sociological and anthropological research, offering a fresh lens through which to examine familiar situations and behaviors. By adopting this perspective, researchers can uncover hidden cultural norms, challenge assumptions, and gain deeper insights into the social construction of reality.

Real-world examples, such as everyday rituals, consumer behavior, educational practices, workplace norms, and healthcare practices, illustrate the practical applications and benefits of treating familiar situations as strange. These examples demonstrate how this approach can enhance cross-cultural understanding, improve research objectivity, and foster innovative problem-solving.

From a sociological perspective, treating familiar situations as anthropologically strange provides valuable insights into the construction of social norms, power dynamics, and cultural meanings. It aligns with key sociological theories and promotes a more nuanced and critical understanding of social phenomena.

As researchers and practitioners continue to navigate an increasingly complex and interconnected world, the practice of treating familiar situations as anthropologically strange remains a vital tool for fostering empathy, understanding, and positive social change. By challenging conventional perspectives and embracing the unfamiliar, we can gain a richer and more comprehensive understanding of the diverse and dynamic nature of human societies.

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