Reading Analysis: Body Ritual among the Nacirema

Reading Analysis: Body Ritual among the Nacirema

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Reading Analysis: Body Ritual among the Nacirema

Horace Miner’s ‘Body Ritual among the Nacirema’ is a satirical portrayal of the hoax Nacirema society, which refers to the American culture in actuality. Miner provides a twisted ethnographic account of the Americans, describing some of their mundane activities, such as brushing teeth as body rituals with significant magical meaning. The anthropologist is quite familiar with the diversity of ways in which different cultures approach similar customs. As a result, he is not amazed even by the most exotic customs. Miner uses satire to discuss several aspects of the American culture, arguing that the more a person distances themselves from their point of view, the more the culture looks peculiar to them. On the other hand, looking from within can justify even the strangest customs and practices. The internal and external cultural perspectives make Miner’s article highly important because they illustrate the problem of representation in ethnography. While the article explores the American culture, it successfully promotes the concept of cultural relativism, highlighting there is no one objective angle for assessing and interpreting cultures.

Miner succeeds in showing the need to explore and understand a culture from its perspective. The anthropologist’s review of the Nacirema tribe shows they are a magic-ridden people. It is difficult to comprehend how the population has managed to survive for so long, given the harsh cultural burdens that they place on themselves. For instance, intercourse is a taboo topic and only takes place through scheduling. Women take crude actions to avoid pregnancy, including restricting sexual relations to particular moon phases. Even though the cultural traditions of the Nacirema look barbaric, Miner highlights that they have specific underlying reasons that outsiders might fail to understand. Whenever a person looks at a particular culture from their high place of safety, it is easy to see the irrelevance of certain practices and values. The gap poses the question of how ethnographic work should study cultures from the outside and how individuals should explore their cultures from within. Social science must use various views to understand a single culture.

Miner fails to include several social dynamics when discussing the trajectory of different cultures. According to the author, ‘civilized’ societies have pre-developed notions of witch doctors and exotic rituals because of the implications of their colonial encounters. The argument only looks at the interaction between a dominant and minor culture. The impact of human nature and history do not accompany the summarization of the Nacirema. For instance, it is natural for both colonialists and aboriginal communities to defecate and urinate because they are biological functions. However, the practice will differ between the two communities because it involves technologies and tools that change over time. An exploration of a different culture must include an analysis of its historical developments. History is a critical criterion for critiquing ethnographic discourse as it provides internal insight into how particular exotic customs take meaning. A comprehensive understanding of history helps reduce the negative influences of ethnocentrism in anthropological research.

As anthropologists, Miner’s article questions how social science should approach the study of societies. Are more accurate interpretations acquired when the researchers distance themselves and look at a culture as aliens? Miner uses such an approach with the Nacirema, and it does not result in the identification of hidden or obvious cultural traits. Miner does not answer whether an external outlook contains questions that only an outsider can ask. Nevertheless, if research fails to consider the inner context of a society, it will be unable to understand the meaning of different observable values, practices, and structures. Many American readers might take offense to Miner’s portrayal of them. The anger is justified because the author never took the time to interact with the citizens to understand them. It is crucial to acknowledge how Miner purposefully restricts his perspective to teach a lesson on cultural relativism.


Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503-507.

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