Project #1: Research Questions and Hypotheses

Return to Teaching eHRAF: Tile View | Table View

View exercise overview

Exercise ID: 4.1
Class size: Any
Level(s): IV
Source: Submitted by HRAF member

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Multiple subjects specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Residence (OCM 591), Puberty & Initiation (OCM 881), Arranging a marriage (OCM 584)
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from entire collection
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? No
Assignments for students to complete in groups? No
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Brad Huber, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Charleston

DUE:__________________________, at the beginning of class

The main goals of this exercise are: 1) to reinforce your knowledge about the fundamental concepts of research, 2) to get you to start thinking about the cross-cultural research project you will undertake throughout the course, and 3) to familiarize you with the electronic version of the Human Relations Area Files or eHRAF World Cultures (commonly referred to as “eHRAF.”)

This project requires that you develop 5 research hypotheses. All five hypotheses should deal with different aspects of the same topic. To get some ideas about a topic, first think about what interests you the most. Then consult the eHRAF via College of Charleston’s Library databases. The eHRAF database is found by selecting “Human Relations Area Files”. Once in the eHRAF World Cultures database use the “Add Subjects” function in an Advanced search to search for ethnographic texts using the OCM subjects (see eHRAF User Guide).

Here’s the sort of topical information you’ll find in the ethnographic texts of eHRAF World Cultures:

1: Residence, OCM 591

prevailing rule governing the place of residence of a married couple (e.g., matrilocal, avunculocal, patrilocal, neolocal); existence of combined rules (e.g., alternating, bilocal, matri?patrilocal); occurrence of alternative rules under special circumstances; extent to which marriage normally involves the removal of bride or groom to another community (e.g., local exogamy, local endogamy); residence changes by children or unmarried adults (e.g., removal to home of grandparents or maternal uncle); residence changes made late in married life; evidence bearing upon former or current changes in residence rules; etc.

2: Puberty and Initiation, OCM 881

ideas, beliefs, and practices associated with first emissio seminis and first menstruation; rites of passage at or near puberty; prevalence of special initiation rites for each gender; ceremonial sponsors; function and purpose of ceremonial; mystery and seclusion; taboos; ordeals and tests; inculcation of secret lore; special instruction in sex life; ideas of death and rebirth; etc.

3: Arranging A Marriage, OCM 584

marriage preliminaries; courtship (e.g., opportunities, methods); initiation of negotiations (e.g., by youth, by girl, by parents of either); conduct of negotiations (e.g., by parents, through a go?between); marriage brokers; proposal of marriage; methods and consequences of rejection; requirement of consent (e.g., conceptualization, announcement, ceremonial, symbols, duration); status and behavior of betrothed persons; infant betrothal (e.g., prevalence, procedure, nullification ); breaking an engagement (e.g., reasons, procedures, consequences); adjustment to death of betrothed (e.g., substitution of a sibling); etc.

If you are in the College of Charleston library, these are some good sources of ideas too:

TITLE: Dictionary of anthropology

TITLE: Encyclopedia of cultural anthropology (4 volumes)
Vol. 1 CALL NUMBER: GN307E521996 ?? V.1

TITLE: Encyclopedia of world cultures (10 volumes)
Vol. 1 CALL NUMBER: GN307E531991 ?? V.1

AUTHOR:  Bernard, H. Russell
TITLE: Social Research Methods:
SUBTITLE:  Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
PUBLISHER:  Sage Publications, Incorporated
ISBN: 0761922369

Please read Chapter 3 in Bernard’s book titled Social Research Methods for some good ideas on research methods.

Your project consists of handing in a typed double-spaced paper that addresses the following issues. Please use complete sentences and address these issues in the order that they appear below. Use the following numbering system in your paper:

1) Clearly state five (5) hypotheses related to your specific topic. The variables in your hypotheses must deal with characteristics of societies rather than characteristics of people. Consider the following example of a hypothesis using 2 variables, “Average Age of Shamans” and “Type of subsistence pattern”: It is hypothesized that “Shamans tend to be younger in Hunting and Gathering Societies than in Agricultural Societies.” Or a hypothesis that relates “Type of initiation rite” with “type of post-marital residence”. It is hypothesized that “Female initiation rites tend to be found in societies with matrilocal or natalocal post-marital residence.” Your 5 hypotheses should be related but use ten (10) different variables.

2) At least one of your hypotheses must be a cause and effect relationship. Identify it.

3) Identify those variables which are unidimensional and those which are multidimensional variables? Say why you think your multidimensional variables are multidimensional.

4) Identify the dependent and independent variables of your five hypotheses. Read “What’s the Question” in the Basic Guide to Cross-Cultural Research for a definition of dependent and independent variables.

5) Give an example of one of your variables that could be both an independent and a dependent variable.

6) Give conceptual definitions of your variables. Conceptual definitions can be found in dictionaries and there are even special reference works for anthropologists that give conceptual definitions of anthropological concepts, or provide you with a good start in developing them on your own. Check those resources I’ve mentioned above. They’re found in the library’s reference section:

7) Give operational definitions of your variables (see also the section “Measures” in the Basic Guide to Cross-Cultural Research). When giving an operational definition assume that you’ll be consulting the ethnographic accounts of cultures found in the eHRAF. The eHRAF contains the very best ethnographic data we have on the cultures it covers, but it doesn’t contain every single kind of data. It has its limitations.

Specify exactly what you have to do in order to operationalize something that has been defined conceptually. See pp. 38-40 of Bernard’ book titled Social Research Methods for ideas. I’ve also included an example at the end of these instructions. It’s for the variable “Extended Family Households” that has been coded as an ordinal level variable. The coder has anticipated that cultures vary with respect to the frequency with which extended family households are found in them. The frequency of extended family households varies from being very high in frequency (it’s the norm or typical household) to being infrequent or rare. See section “Measures” in the Basic Guide to Cross-Cultural Research for more information.

8) Now that you’ve come up with operational definitions for your variables, be sure to indicate whether they are at the nominal, ordinal, interval or ratio level of measurement.

9) Now consider your cause and effect hypothesis, and discuss the issues of covariation, lack of spuriousness, precedence, and theory.


Your paper will be double-spaced and typed. It will be evaluated according to the following criteria: 1) Coverage of main points, 2) Use of specific examples or details to illustrate your main ideas, and 3) Clarity (including spelling, grammar, and organization).

Citing eHRAF documents

You should include a standard bibliographic reference for the material, i.e.
Appadurai, Arjun
1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Don’t forget to include page numbers when citing material in the text! You should also include the basic retrieval statement for an on-line database: Retrieved [month day, year,] from [source] on-line database ([name of database], [item no.–if applicable]).