Table of contents
Table of contents
The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 17

Looking Back at Coming of Age

A small group of children run around under a tree, smiling happily.

In this unit (to accompany SAPIENS podcast S6), students will reflect on all topics covered in past units. Students will use the information gathered and put it within a framework of considerations, including the challenges, possibilities, and responsibilities of studying other cultures and societies.

Learning Objectives
  • Compare the significant themes: sexuality, nature versus nurture, and knowledge production.
  • Reflect on the challenges, possibilities, and responsibilities of studying cultures and societies.
Knowledge Production
  1. The methods of formulating anthropological concepts, ideas, and evidence that will assist in understanding concepts of the human experience.

Professor Talking Points
  • The American Anthropological Association has a code of ethics called the Principles of Professional Responsibility. It was originally developed to provide an ethical framework for anthropological work. Part of it states, “In research, anthropologists’ paramount responsibility is to those they study. When there is a conflict of interest, these individuals must come first. Anthropologists must do everything in their power to protect the physical, social, and psychological welfare and to honor the dignity and privacy of those studied.” Discuss how an anthropologist can put these ideas into practice while undertaking an anthropological study.
  • Review the main points of the previous units. Focus on the themes of sexuality, nature versus nurture, and knowledge production. Discuss whether a person from one culture can ever truly understand someone from a different culture.
Academic Articles
  1. Park, Jae. 2017. “Knowledge Production with Asia-Centric Research Methodology.” Comparative Education Review 61 (4): 760–779.

  2. Weidman, Nadine. 2015. “Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture.” Isis 106 (4): 903–904.

Student Discussion Questions
  • Participant observation is at the heart of some anthropological study methods. What challenges are posed by this type of data collection?
  • What are the strongest arguments on either side of the nature versus nurture debate?
  • What responsibilities does a researcher have to the culture or group they are studying?
  • How do ethnographic methods create certain kinds of knowledge? In what ways can anthropology create biases and misunderstandings, and in what ways can anthropologists foster intercultural understandings?
  • Create a Venn diagram using the three themes: sexuality, nature versus nurture, and knowledge production. Use the diagram to show the overlap in themes, particularly in Margaret Mead’s work, and the differences.
  • With a partner, debate whether bias can be overcome in anthropological study. The debate proposition is “Bias cannot be overcome in anthropological study.” One of you will take an affirmative stance, and the other will take a negative stance. You will each include three points to support your case.
Additional Resources
  1. Book: Matt Ridley’s Nature via Nurture

  2. Book: Pat Caplan’s The Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas

  3. Video: AnthroNotes’ “Ethics in Anthropology

Unit By

Aimee L. Richards, Freedom Learning Group

Biological Anthropology
Unit 1


The photograph features a large recreated model of a neanderthal.