The Duality of TripAdvisor: The Quality of Reviews deterring Strategists from Quality Sites
3 December 2017
This paper analysis the functionality of TripAdvisor and how it effects both local and visiting communities. Term Paper for Anthropology of Tourism with Kathleen Adams, PhD, Loyola University Chicago.
Every minute, 115 new opinions are added to the ever growing database of 190,000,000+ reviews on TripAdvisor. The free website serves potential researching tourists using TripAdvisor as an encyclopedia of travel to research, compare, book, and rate every aspect of a trip—from flight to hotel, restaurant to attraction. In this context, these tourists who rely on TripAdvisor will be referred to as strategists. With a simple sign-up, anyone can join the community of reviewers to add opinions and advice for various destinations. With such a global presence, it seems reasonable to ask why tourists rely so heavily on TripAdvisor to make their decisions? What effect does TripAdvisor have on the local businesses to which the strategists are planning to visit?
The Tourist’s Dilemma & The Mechanics of TripAdvisor
Answering these questions requires a broader understanding of the Tourist’s Dilemma—the quandary of where to tour when there are so many possibilities welcomed by today’s globalized world. Paired with an understanding of how Consumer Generated Media (CGM) works, discovering the motivation of strategists to visit TripAdvisor becomes clear. A proper analysis of the effects of CGM may be assessed on local economies to discover that TripAdvisor is beneficial to the tourist, yet detrimental to the turates, or locals, that provide for their visitors. The TripAdvisor site refreshes majority consumer interest while fueling its own top choices for destinations. In discussing the vicious cycle of tourism, R.W. Butler reminds one that “it can be expected that even attractions of the tourist will lose their competitiveness…” meaning that every destination is subject to continual reevaluation (1980:9). Therefore, rather than relying on quality and authentic experience, TripAdvisor sends its readers to the most frequented tourists sites, often determined through popularity, accessibility, and location.
Before assessing the true functionality of TripAdvisor, it is vital to understand the consumer base who flock to the site. Travel is becoming more assessable through “increasing affluence, additional leisure time [and] the availability of desirable places to visit” (Prideaux 2002:323). Cheaper travel paired with technology to discover new destinations (such as TripAdvisor) fuel the Tourist’s dilemma, resulting in welcomes anxiety on where to go and what to do.
Nguyen Thai remarks that “perceived uncertainty mediates the relation between choice-set size and destination evaluation” (2017:38). This means that when planning a trip, there is a significant number of available destinations which can lead to overwhelming feelings of choice. This “choice overload phenomenon” fuels a need for some type of help in the decision making process (ibid). As discovered through an analytical study, Thai concludes that “tourists go through multiple stages in their decisions because their limited analytical capacity forces them to decompose the complex decision into manageable steps” (ibid, 39). A common and rational step is consulting a CGM. Because “uncertainty is the underlying mechanism that mediates the effect of choice-set size,” the Tourist Dilemma can be solved through TripAdvisor (ibid, 48).
TripAdvisor has attained its status due to the shear amount of people that use it. As a crowdsourced website, large amounts of people “collaborate through their recommendations in a ranking system as a collective good” (Ganzaroli 2017:503). A contributor has the option for numerical and textual reviews where they can provide specific detail and advice through journaling, while “numerical ratings are the overall reflection of information in [their] text reviews” (Zhang 2016:283). Together these ratings are combined to position different sites relating to their popularity. While quite modest, TripAdvisor does lack specificity in its algorithms. Rating is determined by efficiency through its collaborative recommendation.
TripAdvisor organizes its reviews based on “the extent to which the problem can be easily represented; the extent to which its solution requires self-motivated people, and the extent to which its evaluation includes a large number of experienced users” (Ganzaroli 2017:503). As this is quite subjective and can be misleading, Zhang et al have attempted to create a more efficient algorithm for TripAdvisor, where the site would “only provide several most important influential factors for tourists” (2016:283). Specifically, they note that for restaurants on TripAdvisor, tourists can only rate restaurants on four criteria: food, service, value, and atmosphere (ibid:283). It then becomes clear that while beneficial, TripAdvisor’s functionality is limited due to this narrow processing. Nonetheless, this understanding is important when assessing the rationale of strategists to consult the site.
A Strategist’s Draw to TripAdvisor
It is easily understood that growing accessibility to technology and travel push potential tourists, or strategists, to a database for planning. In efforts to escape the Tourist’s dilemma, TripAdvisor satisfies a strategist’s need for help. TripAdvisor is itself the most beneficial to a strategist through its ability to demonstrate human-like attitudes and quality of its information to reveal the trust embedded into various reviews.
As TripAdvisor is an online site, the elusiveness of internet is an unavoidable obstacle. The engineers and designers of the site have cleverly worked around this vagueness by branding TripAdvisor as a community of contributors. As Werner Kunz acknowledges, “a sense of community belongingness relates positively to greater attendance at offline gathering” (2015:1823). The bios of reviews show experience, number of recommendations, and previously visited places—all which encourage relationship building and information exchange. The lack of face-to-face human connection is then easily replaced with the familiarity of similar interests and credibility when reading reviews. This creates a greater sense of community by promoting effective communication “especially for relationship building with a stranger (ibid, 1826). Through this active comfortability then, there is evidence that strategists will use TripAdvisor to “seek avenues to satisfy their curiosity and the urge that entices them to leave their own environment and visit new places” (Prideaux 2002:318). While a surface skim of the importance of human-like site seems minor, it remains integral to fomenting the quality of information in a review to perfect trust rooted into a review. It is vital to recognize that “by facilitating customer-to-customer information sharing about travel experiences,” TripAdvisor empowers travelers to consult their community of knowledgeable friends to be able to “build a tourism package for themselves” (Filieri 2015:177).
TripAdvisor has prioritized the quality of their website. As Filieri et al describe, “the [greater] quality of the information that consumers retrieve, the more they will perceive the website to be of high quality, which will both lead to customer satisfaction and trust in the CGM website” (2015:181). It is important to note that the online nature of TripAdvisor makes quality even more difficult to tackle. Vásquez supports this, reminding that “the traditional lack of reliability associated with self-reports becomes further amplified in online context, where identity has become a fraught and often-contested category, and where issues related to ‘authenticity’ and ‘representation’ abound” (2010:1714).
Recently however, a phenomenon of fake reviews has persisted. This would challenge the quality, and ultimately the trustworthiness of a CGM, because reviews would be inaccurate. In 2015, after a businessman created a site for a fake restaurant, the UK Advertising Standards Authority recognized that “not all consumer reviews are necessarily written by real customers,” which led to a drop in TripAdvisor traffic (ibid, 175). This demonstrated that TripAdvisor needed to maintain trust, without which would deter strategists from relying on the site.
To ensure trust, then, a website must capitalize on the quality of its product. Similar to ensuring a community feel, TripAdvisor has “introduced a badge system to show the different levels of expertise of reviewer” which allows a strategist to assess the credibility and quality of each review. This solidifies TripAdvisor outside each specific review, forcing the strategist to assess each review independent from TripAdvisor itself. In being a platform for conversation then, the CGM succeeds at providing quality information. Filieri supports this, stating that “if travel consumers perceive the reviewers as credible sources they will believe that the website is reliable in that it has effective mechanisms in place to avoid spammers who post deceptive reviews” (ibid, 176). Therefore, a substantial review from a credible contributor clearly has more quality than one that is short, superficial or emotional with incorrect descriptions. Similarly, if there is any competing information, “travel advisors can prime and boost customers’ self-confidence by asking and reminding them of their expertise and/or knowledge about traveling” (Thai 2017:49). The quality of the review is thus vital to the promotion of reliability of the site.
When a review is current, valuable, credible, useful, relevant and complete, a strategist will trust a CGM because “they will think it comes from real customers and not from biased information sources” (Filieri 2015:176). Through the community that TripAdvisor promotes and the quality of information instilled in contributors, strategists are able to trust the CGM. Customers visit a CGM to get help about travel information from other customers who have experience to help a strategist. They build trust through the “quality of the recommendation” and with “the previous customers who, by describing their previous experiences, help other consumers to assess [that] quality” (ibid, 181). Therefore, “trust and sympathy are central mediators to relationship development” (Kunz 2015:1826). Simply put, a strategist leaves TripAdvisor happy because they can trust the reviews they read, self-assessing the quality of each while feeling comfortable in a welcoming community.
The Other Side: TripAdvisor in the Local’s Eyes—A journey to Venice
Unfortunately, Butler’s vicious tourism cycle persists to disenfranchise local businesses that rely on TripAdvisor for revenue. Fundamentally TripAdvisor “intervenes in the structure and organization of tourist flows” (Ganzaroli 2017:509). This is due to the efficiency that the CGM welcomes. Tourism exists in its own market, with the invisible hand of supply and demand naturally dispersing wealth to the society (Prideaux 2002:335). Essentially, TripAdvisor can unexpectedly bolster the attractiveness of the most popular sites despite their possibly poor quality. Using knowledge from Zhang et al on how TripAdvisor categorizes and sorts its reviews, the most reviewed will stay at the top of a search, gaining the most online traffic (2016,283). Thus, the most popular sites continually get the attention of new strategists.
To exemplify this further, Ganzaroli draws attention to Venice. Here, “the most popular restaurants become even more popular largely independently of the quality they offer” (2017:509). The ancient Italian town attracts millions of tourists eager to witness the famous architecture built on water. With the large seasonal influx, there are some periods of the year where the city cannot hold both tourist and local. TripAdvisor marks Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Basilica as the must see attractions, yet these too are the areas of mass transit for locals. Therefore, residents’ lives “are often inconvenienced by the presence of too many tourists” (ibid, 504).
This is significant when looking at the spatial distribution of highly rated restaurants. Notably, the average TripAdvisor customer overestimates the quality of the experience restaurants offer in Venice” (Ganzaroli 2017:508). 80% of TripAdvisor reviews in Venice are within 800 meters of St. Mark’s Basilica (ibid, 509). While these reviews are trustworthy, the fact remains that they are subjective in their quality. Importantly noted, “the vast majority of tourists will not return and do not have enough time to acquire information on the quality” of the full sample of Venetian sites (ibid). When rationally seeking businesses invest in quality, their incentive will go unnoticed because TripAdvisor’s reviews are cyclically fueled on a site’s location. Even, “if restaurants invest in quality and customers perceive this, a restaurant’s ranking may improve in the short run” because of their entrenched location and inability to satisfy their goal of serving more tourists (ibid, 509). Due to the community of visiting contributors, no local perspective is included in algorithm, so the central sites entrench their popularity regardless of quality.
The Duality of TripAdvisor
For strategists, TripAdvisor is a present worthy of excitement. By creating a cohesive and welcoming environment, a community of fellow contributors waits to share experience and answer questions. The platform organizes various reviews to define itself as a quality website, where strategists can make their own judgement on reviews, both objectively positive and negative. Through this, TripAdvisor succeeds by instilling trust in its customers.
While benefiting tourists and strategists, TripAdvisor is simultaneously detrimental to the communities it describes. The quality and accuracy that draws strategists is redundant and impractical for the sites that are so attractive online. This is because TripAdvisor is engineered to bolster the top rated sites based on a minimal, general and subjective numerical rating systems. Similarly, the majority of reviews are written by visitors, so the full set of potential locations remains absent from the collection of popular destinations. The algorithm with which TripAdvisor presents results creates a cyclical entrenchment of popular places negating the true of quality of a site while favoring proximity and friendless to tourists.
Butler, R. W.
1980 The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution: Implications for management of resources
The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien 24(1): 5-12
Filieri, Raffaele, Salma Alguezaui, and Fraser McLeay
2015 Why do travelers trust TripAdvisor? Antecedents of trust toward consumer-generated media and its influence on recommendation adoption and word of mouth.
Tourism Management 51: 174-185
Ganzaroli, Andrea, Ivan De Noni, and Peter van Baalen
2017 Vicious advice: Analyzing the impact of TripAdvisor on the quality of restaurants as part of the cultural heritage of Venice
Tourism Management 61: 501-510
Kunz, Werner and Sukanya Seshadri
2015 From virtual travelers to real friends: Relationship-building insights from an online travel community
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2002 The Cybertourist. In Tourism as a Metaphor of the Social World.
Dann, GMS. Pp. 317–340. Cambridge University Press.
Thai, Nguyen and Ulku Yuksel
2017 Too many destinations to visit: Tourists’ dilemma?
Annals of Tourism Research 62: 38-52
2010 Complaints online: The case of TripAdvisor
Journal of Pragmatics 43: 1707-1717
Zhang, Hong-yu, Pu Ji, Jian-qiang Wang, and Xiao-hong Chen
2016 A novel decision support model for satisfactory restaurants utilizing social information: A case study of TripAdvisor.com
Tourism Management 59: 281-297
 Smith, Oliver. 20 November 2014. Trip Advisor in Numbers. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/lists/TripAdvisor-in-numbers/
The Intellectualization of Chicago’s Culture
5 Novembre 2017
An Ethnographic Analysis of the Chicago Cultural Center. Paper for Anthropology of Tourism with Kathleen Adams, PhD, Loyola University Chicago.
The Chicago Cultural Center (CCC), centrally-located in the heart of the city on Randolph and Michigan, aims to represent the diverse population of Chicago. Identified by its own unique architecture, the building houses various offices and exhibits of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). Built in 1897, the five story building was designed to “impress and prove that Chicago had grown into a sophisticated metropolis” (DCASE 2017). The Center draws thousands of tourists and locals each year, eager to see the famous Preston Bradley Tiffany Dome or one of the many constantly-rotating exhibits provided by the CAF. Functionally, the Center is open every day with long hours, seemingly enticing all to enter with its free admission. Rather contrary to the ethnic diversity of Chicago, however, the CCC caters to upper-middle class whites, while staffed by a wide range of minorities. While there exists substantial information through ethnographic methods to hypothesize about the site, Erve Chambers reminds us that “it is misleading to assume that the motivation for any travel experience has a single purpose and that it is important to consider the entire context of the journey and its multiple justifications” (Chambers 2000: 5). Therefore, it is vital to assess the following observations and the theories through an anthropological eye—one that remains objective through its subjective multidisciplinary analysis.
Defining the CCC as a singular locale proves awkward as there are many social factors at play in the Chicago landmark. For proper analysis, tourists (and local) motivation for visiting the site must be assessed with basic ethnographic observation of behaviour and attitude. Pairing anthropological theory then with this ethnography provides insight to how CCC fuels the intellectualism of its guests, both native and visiting. The resulting norms and attitudes then mold the class identity of the white visitors as superior, promoting their domination of the site while pushing away other minorities who see their behaviour from the working side. With this, discovering the role of the Chicago Cultural Society as an inconsistent, yet attempted Chicago Landmark is possible.
My research partner and I conducted brief interviews with randomly selected visitors and workers throughout the site on Sunday, 22 October 2017, starting at 10am. We took careful note of ethnicity, behaviour, group size, and attitude about each guest’s visit. Of the sixteen visitors with whom we sustained substantial conversations, eight had previously planned to visit the Center, while an equal eight randomly entered. Five of our chats were with individuals who identified as “Chicagoans,” while the rest represented a wide range of home locales (Australia, Georgia, Utah, etc). Every visitor with whom we interacted was white, except one photographer, Charlotte, who was Asian-American. As previously mentioned, the CCC staff were predominantly black. We also spoke with a Mexican-American high school volunteer for the CAF.
For the individuals who had planned to visit the Chicago Cultural Center, visitors of forethought, the content of the exhibits served as their main motivation for attending CCC. Two friends interested in architecture visited from Kalamazoo for their birthday. Two Chicago high schoolers visited for a school project focusing on an artist they had studied. A few individuals from around the country (including Charlotte), were on a photography conference, guided by a Chicago native who brought the group to the Center because of the rain. Finally, two men (who we presumed were meeting up for a romantic soiree in Chicago) came to study Cooper Hewitt’s exhibit in the Room of Plinths, to research new information for their teaching at IU Bloomington.
Impulsivity visitors provided a variety of narratives, as one would expect in visiting this Chicago landmark. An uncle and his two high school nieces stumbled upon the Center after their visit to the Art Institute—they presumed the Center was a library, yet remained very pleasantly surprised at their amusement throughout the Dome and the traveling sites. Four female middle-aged Australians (all librarians) saw a picture of the Tiffany Dome in the Chicago Hop-on Hop-off tourist bus, yet were surprised to discover CCC’s proximity to Millennium park, from where they just departed. This was a similar case with two women from Atlanta, who stopped in after seeing the well-known copper Bull on the Washington Street entrance. Most insightful, however, was a local Chicagoan who sat in the basement drinking his Starbucks and reading the news on his iPad. He called CCC the “people’s palace,” because of its agency to provide ‘anything to anyone’. Immediately after his eloquent definition, however, he complained that there are often not enough seats as he gestured to a black man sitting at the table next to him.
Many of CCC’s guests cited the educational aspect of the site as a beneficial factor of their visit. The authentic architecture of the Dome, along with the various architecture exhibits provide a visitor with niche knowledge and unique ‘field research’ to bring back home. Graburn discusses this in detail, stating that “historical, cultural, and ethnic forms of tourism have become increasingly popular, all of them catering to one form or another of modernity’s nostalgia for the premodern” (Graburn 2001: 33). Even more so, this knowledge will transcend a visitor’s trip back to their home, where it will then set them apart from colleagues who unable to have the same experience. This is obviously the case with the IU Bloomington teachers, who mentioned that they would utilize what they see in the exhibit as examples for future lesson plans. Similarly, the teacher leading the photography seminar capitalized on the poor weather, stating that her visit to CCC showed a beautiful and unique Chicago. Charlotte would use the pictures from the CCC to display her specific new expertise. Thus, for both locals and tourists, reference to the academic sensation or experience of a place becomes the norm upon return. Bruner supports this claim, stating that “[tourists] go for adventure, for experience, for status, for education and to explore” (Bruner 2005: 194). Both the impulsive and planned visitor utilized the site’s didactic capacity for their own social benefit.
Graburn also discusses the “contract between the ordinary/compulsory work state spent “at home” and the extraordinary/voluntary metaphorically “sacred” experience away from home,” where the ritual between home and abroad is commonplace (Graburn 2001: 27). Due to its predictability then, it is apparent that tourists will use their experience to define themselves upon return. Such is the case with the aforementioned teachers and Australian librarians. Ian Munt dissects Bourdieu’s cultural intellectualism as a commodity, where tourism is a cultural good where experiences are consumed, and then used to benefit the tourist. He warns however, that “the professionalization and intellectualization of travel, together with its associated discourse, have been insufficient in themselves to ensure social differentiation and, more importantly, spatial distance” (Munt 1994: 117). This means that the ritualization associated with travel, and the consequential redefinition as educated tourist, can and will fuel social divide.
The distance that this intellectualization creates between tourist and their sedentary other exacerbates greater social boundaries. The coffee man who doesn’t like his seats being taken by others clearly feels superiority from his knowledge of the building and its exhibits. Because “urban and suburban middle classes feel that their lives are overly artificial and meaningless, lacking deep feelings of belonging and authenticity,” travel can set them apart—travel gives a tourist a social advantage (Graburn 2001: 33). For Charlotte, her pictures and experiences will follow her home, then serving as a piece of her journey. She created the stage in her camera where her picture becomes a sort of souvenir for her to share her incomparable story. Chambers reminds us that “tourists’ goal is to get behind the stage that is provided for them and find something real to experience” (Chambers 2000:19). More broadly, the experiences that the visitors create foment their memories and become part of their individualities. Just as they return home to identify with their celebrations of their journey, so too do their actual experiences fuel their personal being. Morgan and Pritchard discuss souvenirs and their effects on self. They claim that “tourism ‘as a system of presenting and performance’, premising that tourism experience and its material manifestations contribute to our narratives and performances of self” (Morgan and Pritchard 2005:45). They continue that “while the postmodern tourist is conscious that he or she is a tourist, he or she has no single tourist identity but performs a variety of roles with multiple texts and meanings” (ibid:40). This means that, while there remains no obsolete correlation between tourist’s identity and site interaction, there persists a strict identification that comes from travel. For the tourists (and locals) who visit CCC, the intellectualization of the sight fuels a sense of superiority, personified well with the coffee man.
The Chicago Cultural Center subtly proclaims itself as welcoming to all. As we encountered, the site does cater to a wide variety of people from different geographical locations—yet it remains untouched by any minority. This is due to the high intellectualization that the Center fuels. With its specialized moving tours to its historically-heavy permanence, those with desire to identify as intellectually superior (as the librarians, photographers, students, and teachers have) fuel a pattern of intellectually-dominated attendance. Munt summarizes the cyclical pattern of intellectual tourism fuelling the identification of ‘superior’ intellectuals. He says that “with the emergence of tourism as both an ethically and socially problematic activity among certain fractions of the new middle classes, tourism and tour companies catering for the intellectual demands of these class fractions are of increasing importance in the legitimation of travel” (Munt 1994: 110). From this, it is apparent that the Chicago Cultural Center remains an establishment for tourists to define themselves as intellectuals for their own benefit. They will take home their knowledge to set themselves apart from their less-travelled (and now less educated) counterparts. Thus, CCC fails at representing the diversity of Chicago, yet institutionally is void of blame for this cultural complexity.
Bruner, Edward M. 2005. “The Balinese Border Zone,” In Culture on Tour, 191-210. The University of Chicago Press.
Chambers, Erve. 2000. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.
Graburn, Nelson H.H. 2001. Secular Ritual: A General Theory of Tourism. Tourists and Tourism 2: 25-35.
Morgan, Nigel Morgan and Annette Pritchard. 2005. On Souvenirs and Metonymy. Tourist Studies 5(1): 29-53.
Munt, Ian. 1994. The ‘Other’ Postmodern Tourism: Culture, Travel and the New Middle Classes. Sage Journals 11(3): 101-123.
Buddhism as a Religion
7 December 2017
In this piece, I focus my research on defining a religion. Tackling such a momentous issue takes a lot of perspective, which I take from anthropologists like Durkheim, Tyler, and Geertz.
Term Paper for Anthropology of Religion at Loyola University of Chicago
Many anthropologists dedicate their life to define the complex phenomenon of religion. Creating an obsolete set of characteristics, however, places some practices outside the specific defines of religion. Émile Durkheim even states “if one insists that the term religion means belief in a supreme being, a certain number of tribes will be excluded from the world of religion” (Durkheim 1995:27). Focusing in on the ‘tribe’ of Buddhism, the worldview remains outside the confines of many definitions of religion due to its lack of a deity or heavy ritual practice. Melford Spiro explains that “Buddhist doctrine poses a serious challenge to most of our generalizations about religion, and ultimately to our very notions about human nature itself” (Spiro 1970: 3). Due to the numerous exceptions Buddhism introduces to the debate on defining religion, an in-depth analysis of the worldview must be completed. Discussing the definitions of religion and applying them to Buddhism Doctrine enlightens the idea of Buddhism broadening the defines of religion. Through this paper’s discourse Buddhism is revealed to be a religion because it provides motivation for individuals to act, thus helping individuals to live.
The specific case of Buddhism as a religion presents a broad argument to the stage of theoretical cultural anthropology. Spiro claims that cultural and religion systems are not a solid mold, but simply initial classification systems for societal practices. Discovering Buddhism as a religion then serves as a catalyst for the discussion of the vitality and validity of classifying cultural phenomenon different from those of an observer. Outside the world of anthropologists, an inherent ethnocentric bias of one’s culture persists. Therefore, witnessing Buddhism as a religion remains imperative—it reveals the many flaws in attempting to define ‘foreign’ culture. A religion exists as “the relationship between the real and ideal, the actual and doctrinal, the existential and normative,” providing complex dimensions of belief systems for the believer (Spiro 1970:5). Discourse on religion then proves appropriate in attempting to eliminate ethnocentric bias. Spiro enforces this quest, claiming that “to hold that religion consists in a set of textual doctrines is to hold a strange notion of ‘religion’ in contrast to theology or philosophy…. It would result in denying that millions of Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, Sinhalese, and Thai are Buddhists, despite the fact that this religious system is practiced” (Spiro 1970:5). To prevent defining legitimate practices as irreligious, analyzing incomplete but accepted definitions of religion becomes necessary.
As previously stated, numerous anthropologists discuss the purpose and theory behind religion. Because of this, many definitions of religion exist. Discovering the massive spectrum between Tylor’s ethnocentric definition and Geertz’s very specific one demonstrate the polarities in which religion can function. Analyzation of different definitions of religion must therefore persist to then accurately discover a functioning definition.
Edward Tylor defined religion as essentially belief in spirits. He discusses Animism, or the ‘theory of souls’ being “shown as the principle out of which arose the various systems of spirits and deities in barbaric and ancient religions” (Tylor 1904:290). Today’s religions thus arose from animism. Tylor continues, claiming that barbaric religions existed as early systems of natural philosophy, which evolved into what is central to religion today. The notion of spirits “serves to account for whatever happens” (Tylor 1904:278). For Tylor, the belief in spirits served as an explanation to natural happening while providing a moral mold for individuals to strive. To exemplify this, he states “among the savages…the worship of the dead naturally encourages good morals; for the ancestor who, when leaving, took care that his family should do right by one another, does not cease this kindly rule when he becomes a divine ghost” (Tylor 1904:289). Here, Tylor explains how a spirit serves as a redemptive judge of morality. A religion then is a belief in spirits, serving to weigh morality. Despite the historical insight, however, Tylor lacks a culturally appropriative contribution to the definition of a religion.
A more modern attempt reflects that of Edward Conze, who defines religion as “an organization of spiritual aspirations, which reject the sensory world and negate the impulses which bind us to it” (Conze 1951:12). Religion is then just another world where spirits exist. Murray Leaf expands this idea, stating that religions “provide the ideas and organizations they use for public discussion of many matters of great practical importance and…often provide a sense of community on a personal and manageable scale” (Leaf 1957:168). This perspective, with Tylor’s, defines religion as a different realm paralleled to ours, where spirits serves as a moral guide. These definitions provide some basis, ready for expansion and elaboration by Clifford Geertz.
Famously, Geertz created a five-part definition of religion. Basically stated, “the importance of religion lies in its capacity to serve, as a source of general, yet distinctive conception of the world” (Geertz 1993:215). Religion then is simply an explanation of the world. Similar to animistic ‘account for whatever happens,’ Geertz provides a function for religion in cultural discourse. Despite the definition, however, Geertz explains that religion is not obsolete. He says that “culture patterns have an intrinsic double aspect: they give meaning to social and psychological reality both by shaping themselves to it and by shaping it to themselves” (Geertz 1993:207). Religion then must exist as a cooperative justification tool, influencing the society equally as the society influences it. The problem then arises that religions are constantly changing because its practicing individuals possess the power to practice and define the religion how they choose. Geertz’s definition thus lacks a clear, definitive answer. The lack of uniformity from Geertz slows down the quest, but Émile Durkheim persists to provide the clearest definition of religion, able to fit Buddhism within its boundary.
Durkheim’s interpretation seems to present the most functional definition of religion. His interpretation eliminates any possible ethnocentrism while clarifying the incomplete definitions. First, Durkheim acknowledges that all religions do not have a god, saying “not all religious virtues emanate from divine personalities, and there are cult ties other than those that unite man with a deity. Thus, religion is broader than the idea of gods or spirits and so cannot be defined exclusively in those terms (Durkheim 1995: 33). This clarification is vital to understanding religion authentically while not subjecting nontheistic religions to a different definition. Durkheim’s definition serves religions like Buddhism well, because religion does not necessitate specifics. He reminds a reader that “there are great religions in which invocations, propitiations, sacrifices, and prayers are far from dominant, and therefore do not exhibit the distinguishing murky by which religious phenomena are to be recognized” (Durkheim 1995:31). With this, is it apparent that Durkheim presents the most encompassing definition to religion. Unlike Tylor’s classification of animism as savage, Geertz’s ever changing term, or Conze’s and Leaf’s incomplete definition, Durkheim incorporates all aspects of belief into a singular function. He reminds the reader that “the true function of religion is not to make us think, enrich our knowledge, or add representations of a different sort and source to those we owe to science. Its true function is to make us act and to help us live” (Durkheim 1995:45). Motivation to act and aid to persist in life remains the authentic function of a religion—any cultural practice defined as such has the ability to satisfy the two-fold definition. This simple classification of a worldview thus presents Buddhism as a religion.
Buddhism was founded in 545BCE in India by a noble named Siddhartha Gautama. The practice spread rapidly through the Buddha’s personality, the spirit of renunciation, self-discipline, and numerous sacrifices by Buddhist disciples (Rajavaramuni 1984:28). Initially, Buddhism drew a large part of its followers from Indians upset with the caste system, because the religion placed worth on human deed over spiritual or ascribed status. Popular in India, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Japan, Malaysia, and many other parts of the world, Buddhists constitute 8% of the world’s population, about 535 million people (ibid).
Due to the lack of a creator-god, Buddhism is unique and thus atheistic, creating conflict in defining the practice as religious. While some spirits exist in small Nat cults in Myanmar, they do not fall into Tylor’s terms of animism because they do not aid in personal salvation. As an essentially ethical religion, Buddhism is often viewed as secular humanism (Morris 2006:52). Morris also states that “Buddhism is an extreme form of individualism, for there is no recourse to a deity or savior, no prayer or sacrament, no religious grace, and not even an enduring soul” (ibid). This reminds a reader that for a Buddhist, all life is suffering. Central to Buddhist doctrine, this nature of suffering means many of the common aspects of a major world religion are not found in Buddhist practice. As Morris states, “Buddhism is both nihilistic and pessimistic, for it repudiates everything that constitutes or attracts the empirical self and regards all sensory experience, all life, as something to be totally rejected” (ibid). The religion, therefore, seems almost incompatible with any definition of religion that encapsulates the major world religions like polytheistic Hinduism or monotheistic Islam or Christianity.
The essential doctrine of Buddhism is embedded in the dharma, or the Four Holy Truths, which exist in their own right, without dependence on any prior reality (ibid). The Four Holy Truths remain defined as:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path (BDEA 2016).
Similar to Christianity’s 10 Commandments or Islam’s 5 Pillars, the Four Holy, or Noble, Truths constitute the foundation of the religion’s worldview. The thesis of the religion states that human life is suffering, and that only through elimination of desire can suffering halt. Rajavaramuni confirms this, saying that “human life implied suffering…most people cannot live happily without adopting some kind of ostrich attitude to this existential fact” (Rajavaramuni 1984:39). Eliminating suffering thus serves as salvation for a Buddhist.
Salvation remains to be one of the more interesting aspects of Buddhism. For most religions, salvation comes from an all-power deity, typically saving an individual from the despair of this world into the beauty of the next. A Buddhist, however, finds salvation through one’s own effort. Nothing but one’s own action will bring salvation. As Morris states:
“Buddhism is a way of salvation: it is not concerned with god or the world, but with human life and with the elimination of suffering. The attainment of salvation depends neither on ritual sacraments, no faith, nor on divine grace, but only on a deep understanding of the way ‘things really are’” (Morris 2006:44).
Salvation is thus an escape from the constant cycle of rebirth. Just as Islam and Christianity provide an escape through salvation, so too does Buddhism offer its followers a path to redemption.
With this basic understanding of Buddhism, categorizing its elements in Durkheim’s definition of religion become possible. Prior to seeing how Buddhism makes one act and helps them to live, discussion on the Buddhist negation of God is required. Buddhism fully rejects the existence of a god, which is why so much conflict to defining Buddhism as a religion exists. Some claim that since Buddhism knows no god, it could not be a religion. These discussions, however, assume that god is an unambiguous term. Durkheim states that “in none of [4 noble truths] is there any question of divinity. The Buddhist is not preoccupied with knowing where this world of becoming in which he lives and suffers came from he accepts it as fact” (Durkheim 1995:28). Durkheim thus contents that a Buddhist only focuses on the reality of life as suffering. A Buddhist would thus adopt an agnostic attitude to that of a personal creator.
While Buddhism remains agnostic, Conze provides an interpretation where Nirvana serves a similar role to a traditionally western deity. A Christian godhead serves as an impersonal, even supra-personal power figure. Within the tenants of Nirvana, a similar role is discovered. Conze says that “Nirvana is permanent, stable, imperishable, immovable, ageless, deathless, unborn, and unbecome, that it is power, bliss and happiness…” (Conze 1951: 39). Clearly, these descriptive terms of Nirvana’s purpose parallel that of a Christian deity. He continues, stating “that it is the real truth and the supreme reality that it is the good, the supreme goal and the one and only consummation of our life” (Conze 1951:40). Similarly, Buddhism provides a clear moral code. As Tambiah states, “it needs also to be emphasized that merit making is directed to hastening rebirth and securing a better rebirth than the existing one” (Tambiah 1968:50). The motivation of living a good life thus comes from the hope of a better salvation. Both Tambiah and Conze compare the role of a Christian deity and Nirvana, concluding that Nirvana serves a Buddhist in a similar way as a deity serves a Christian. While Buddhism lacks a tradition deity, Nirvana satisfies all the qualifications that a Christian deity provides. Through this, the religion helps on to live by providing hope of redemption at the end of a suffering life. Buddhism also provides motivation to act.
The Buddha’s teaching is exclusively concerned with showing the way to salvation. As Lévy states, “Buddhism is a universal religion with salvation as its objects…an ascetic moved by the noble’s intentions” (Lévy 1957: 2). Hence, Buddhism encourages an individual to act in ways that will bring about salvation. Phra Rajavaramuni, a Thai monk, uses specific examples from Thai society to demonstrate how Buddhism satisfies Durkheim’s definition of religion making one act. Rajavaramuni discusses the common form of merit-making acts in modern Thailand. Surrounding Buddhism festivals and ceremonies, Thai culture implements an inescapable moral structure. “By attending religious rites, ceremonies and temple festivals, or by benefiting from some activities and spiritual influence of religious institutions,” Buddhism links the society to its moral structure (Rajavaramuni 1984:13). He continues, saying Thais “are linked with the religion by ties of custom; Buddhism is their national heritage, the glory of their country which they feel bound to preserve” (ibid). The Buddhist entrenchment in Thai society provides an ordinary Thai with solid inclusion to Buddhist practice and culture. Similarly, in Burma, Buddhism serves to unite different people. Rajavaramuni states that “the people of Burma belong to many races and speak many languages, but 85% of the people were Buddhists, thus the government found in Buddhism this unifying element…” (Rajavaramuni 1984:73). Buddhism unites different races of people. The religion therefore enforces inclusion into its moral structure.
Buddhism also provides aid to help followers live. As Rajavaramuni states, “the village monastery serves as the center of social life and activities of the village, for village social life follows the Buddhist holy days, temple fairs, and merit-making ceremonies” (Rajavaramuni 1984:15). Similarly, “the wat is the focus of village devotional and recreational activities, which both merge in certain collective rites distributed over the year” (Tambiah 1968:48). These insights help to demonstrate Buddhism’s prevalence in the social community. The implementation of Buddhist temples and holy days remind individuals about the tenants of Buddhism, thus helping the individual to live. Ritual action among monks serves the laity “to achieve certain effects in these relationships between explained and unexplained” (Tambiah 1968:44). The daily practice of monks paired with the ever-present symbols of Buddhism help followers achieve a moral life. This aid, balanced with showing the way, satisfy Buddhism’s agency in Durkheim’s definition to ‘make us act and to help us live.’
From extensive discourse on anthropological definition of religion, the phenomenon encompasses a practice that motivates individuals to act and aids them with their life. Due to the lack of a central deity and normative ritual such as prayer and idol worship, Buddhism is too often defined outside the realm of religion. This is inappropriate, as Spiro states that “to hold that normative religious doctrine is irrelevant for an understanding of beliefs of religious actors is to evade one of the most important problems in the anthropological study of religion” (Spiro 1970:5). Using case studies to then assess the authentic agency the practice provides for its followers, it is evident that Buddhism persists as a religion.
Conze, Edward. 1951. “Buddhism: Its Essence and Development.” Oxford: Harper & Row.
BDEA—Buddha Dharma Education Association. 2016. “Essentials of Buddhism.” The Four Noble Truths. Tullera, Australia: BuddhaNet.net.
Durkheim, Émile. 1995. “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.” New York: The Free Press.
Geertz, Clifford. 1993. “Religion as a Cultural System.” The Interpretation of Cultures. London: Fontana Press.
Leaf, Murray. 2014. “The Anthropology of Eastern Religions.” Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Lévy, Paul. 1957. “Buddhism: a ‘Mystery Religion’?” New York: Schocken Books.
Morris, Brian. 2006. “Religion and Anthropology: a critical introduction.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Buddhism and Spirit Cults. 44-76.
Rajavaramuni, Phra. 1984. “Thai Buddhism in the Buddhist World.” Bangkok: Amarin Printing Group.
Spiro, Melford. 1970. “Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes.” New York: Harper & Row.
Tambiah, S.J. 1968. “Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology.” The Ideology of Merit and the Social Correlates of Buddhism in a Thai Village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 41-121.
Tylor, Edward B. 1904. “Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization.” New York: J.A. Hill and Company.
Witchcraft in Africa
4 May 2016
This piece delves into the often objectified world of Witchcraft in Africa. Using different case studies, I argue that western media’s negative representation of witchcraft has turned modern Africans away from the authentic culture of many groups of individuals. With modern pieces like Henry West’s Ethnographic Sorcery to the classic E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s study of the Azande, my essay combines theory and ethnography to support my conclusion.
Published in the Binghamton Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology
Witchcraft, or sorcery, is a prominent aspect of many African cultures. To Westerners, perceptions of devil worshipers flying on brooms prohibits reasonable interpretations about the nature of witchcraft. A UNICEF-sponsored anthropologist in South Sudan, Aleksandra Cimpric defines witchcraft as the all-encompassing practice, which includes the popular custom of sorcery. She states that “witchcraft covers multiple terms in local languages referring to various phenomena whose interpretation relies heavily on their context” (Cimpric 2010: 11). In this paper, both sorcery and witchcraft are treated in the same practice. Cimpric’s definition allows one to comprehend witchcraft’s role in African societies. Iona M. Lewis, of the Encyclopedia Britannica, defines one of the central claims in this paper, declaring that “witchcraft explains the problem posed when one seeks to understand why misfortune befalls oneself rather than someone else” (Lewis 2016). Based upon this premise, one can use specific case studies of witchcraft’s role as a moral guide to gauge their societal standing. The Azande in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Muedans in northern Mozambique, and the vast majority of South Africans utilize witchcraft to elucidate unexplained phenomena. While western language invites words like ‘coincidence’, ‘luck’, ‘or fate,’ to define unexplainable events, these words do not exist in most African cultures (Butler 2016). Therefore, is is vital to follow E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s advice about African witchcraft. One of the first anthropologist to review witchcraft in Africa, Evans-Pritchard uses his example of Azande culture to clarify that “the Zande notion of witchcraft is incompatible with our ways of thought (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 81). With Evans-Pritchard’s claim, it is evident that western investigation of witchcraft depicts inaccurate perceptions of African culture. However, being culturally relative in one’s analysis of witchcraft’s influence in different African cultures and societies allows one to authenticate witchcraft’s role as a sophisticated moral framework.
In order to accurately evaluate ethnographic case studies about witchcraft, it is vital to first understand the origin of witchcraft’s inaccurate portrayal in western academia and media. Westerners’ first encounter with African witchcraft was Jean Rouch’s, Les maîtres fous, an enthofictional documentary about spiritual possession in northern Niger. Documenting the Hauka ceremony provided Europeans with images of Africans foaming at the mouth, eating a dog, and contorting their bodies in grotesque configurations (Les maîtres fous 1955). The film, first showed in France in 1955, entrenched a view of savage behavior around all African religion. Despite these false predictions, the film aimed to demonstrate how the ceremony exemplified an inversion of power in colonial Africa. Dr. Paul Stoller states that “…the Hauka way of mastering domination, of redirecting European power to African networks…” was a coping mechanism for Africans (Stoller 1995: 123). The possessed participants became their believed entities, seeking reconciliation for their false-doings. Stoller continues: “In anthropology, it is especially important to consider these smells, tastes, textures and sensations, particularly in those societies in which the Eurocentric notion of text are not important” (Stoller 1995: 22). Les maîtres fous and Stoller’s arguments show how the absence of a Eurocentric analysis of witchcraft created a savage view of the practice. However, in African reality witchcraft is as common as western religious practice. Evans- Pritchard solidifies this claim, stating “unless the reader appreciates that witchcraft is quite a normal factor in the life of the Azande [Africans practicing forms of witchcraft], …he will entirely misunderstand their behavior to it. To us witchcraft is something which haunted and disgusted our credulous forefathers. But the Zande expect to come across witchcraft at any time of the day or night” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 64). By being culturally relative, or viewing the foreign paradigm completely from the point of view of only those who participate in witchcraft, one can then properly assess the cultural and social importance of witchcraft in case studies from vastly different regions of Africa.
Practicing witchcraft is a vague process with numerous forms of participation. Therefore, comprehending three distantly unique examples of witchcraft is vital to understand its importance within African society. Continuing with E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s research, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande serves as a tool to demonstrate one specific way witchcraft is utilized in African society. In central DRC, the Azande rely on witchcraft for the causation of uncommon events. Evans-Pritchard claims that “we must not be deceived by [Azande] way of expressing causation … [t]hey are foreshortening the chain of events, and in a particular social situation are selecting the cause that is socially relevant” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 73). For the Azande, witchcraft dictates the attitude its followers should possess in times of infortunes. The Azande use of witchcraft “provides them with a natural philosophy by which the relations between men and unfortunate events are explained and a ready and stereotyped means of reacting to such events” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 63). This view of witchcraft provides answers to complex life situations. The Azande practicality of witchcraft contrasts from the far away Muedan perception in northern Mozambique.
Henry West, PhD in Anthropology from University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides a different definition of witchcraft from his research on the Muedan plateau in Mozambique. For Muedans, acts of sorcery were equivalent to practices in witchcraft. The biggest act of sorcery is the perception of lions as a reflection of current moral standing. If a Muedan encountered a lion, the nature of the lion would change based on personal reflection of perceived proper social interaction. West says that “sorcery lions… were made, not by sorcerers in an invisible realm, but instead by ordinary, self-deceived Muedans” (West 2007:55). For Muedans, “…sorcery provided an idiom for the expression of social tensions between Muedans of various categories and their respective sociological others” (West 2007:17). The analysis of sorcery as a tool of witchcraft provides another diverse example of witchcraft’s prominence within African cultures. A final, completely different example of witchcraft is evident in South Africa, demonstrating how witchcraft explains the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
South Africa remains one of the most ethnically diverse landscapes in the enormous continent. Despite possessing numerous ethnicities, a majority of traditional groups rely on witchcraft as their outlet for poor conditions. Dr. Adam Ashforth states that “witchcraft in the South African context typically means the manipulation by malicious individuals of powers inherent in persons, spiritual entities, and substances to cause harm to others” (Ashforth 2001: 9). He continues: “Discourses of ‘witchcraft’ can thus be represented as modes of posing and answering questions about evil: about the beings, powers, forces and modes of action responsible for causing suffering in the world; about the nature and meaning of their effects” (Ashforth 2001: 10). For South Africans, witchcraft serves as a tool to establish causation of negative events. While similar to how the Azande utilize witchcraft, it is important to note the difference. South Africans reserve witchcraft to “[inform] understandings about other peoples’ motives and capacities…” (Ashforth 2001: 21). Using the contemporary example of perception of the HIV/AIDS disease, South Africans relying on witchcraft as an explanatory tool to interpret the disease as evil individuals seeking to harm the innocent. With three geographically, culturally, and socially diverse example of witchcraft’s implementation, one truly witnesses witchcraft’s importance in the African realm.
Witchcraft serves as a societal hierarchy and moral framework for Africans. The three case studies all demonstrate similar practicality of witchcraft. In DRC and South Africa, “the witchcraft paradigm… constitutes a way of understanding one’s place in the world” (Ashforth 2001: 10). Likewise, in Mozambique, “…[witchcraft] constitutes a discursive space in which Muedans could speak about the world and act within it in ways they could not through other discursive formations” (West 2007: 69). From these conclusions about witchcraft, it is clear that the unique practice is vital to these societies. In Cimpric’s report on witchcraft, she determines that “the issue of whether witchcraft actually exists has long since been abandoned. Witchcraft exists as a social and cultural reality” (Cimpric 2010: 10). Now, with the appropriate understanding of witchcraft and its importance to African societies, it is clear why western perception of witchcraft is inaccurate and therefore incompatible for a western dissection of cultural importance.
The introduction of western religions to Africa through colonialism created a biased and judgmental view of witchcraft. Christianity specifically defines witches as heathens and immoral pagans who require spiritual redemption. Obviously the western model is ethnocentric and therefore inaccurate, but the origin of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm created immense scrutiny of those Africans still practicing witchcraft. The Norwegian scholar of Theology Rune Blix Hagen states that “the African concept of magic has lost what was originally neutral and morally unbiased in character. A veil of Christian and Western diabolism… descended upon the traditional beliefs of African witchcraft and made these beliefs much more dangerous than earlier” (Hagen 2004). The racist presumptions of the diverse nature of witchcraft made new generations shy away from, and even ridicule, the traditional system of societal standing. Dr. Lewis argues that “like their ancient and early modern European counterparts, modern Africans who believe firmly in the reality of witchcraft do not lack the power of rational reasoning” (Lewis 2016). While only the culturally relative acknowledge this truth, many westerners and Africans shy away from witchcraft discourse. The western judgmental attitude gradually merged into a derogatory analysis of the practice of witchcraft. Cimpric states that “behaviors commonly associated with accusations of witchcraft include violence, mistreatment, abuse, infanticide and the abandonment of children” (Cimpric 2010: 5). Lewis then applies Cimpric’s claim to witchcraft overall, elaborating that “like those in Western society suspected of child abuse and Satanism, African witches in the popular imagination are believed to practice incest and other perversions” (Lewis 2016). Evidently, the introduction of western religions and strict moral code caused the negative and completely incorrect assumptions of witchcraft in Africa. Hagen concludes his article saying “while witches, magic and sorcery are reduced to prime products of entertainment in the Western world, the same phenomena prove to be harsh and brutal reality in other parts of the world” (Hagen 2004). Westerners do not realize the long-term effects of their exploitation of credible, different African culture.
From the harsh definitions of witchcraft in western media, some Africans latch on to the thought that anything involving witchcraft is inherently evil. A few African news articles highlight the peculiar attempt to define witchcraft negatively. The British news agency Reuters published two articles in 2008 trying to blame specific coincidences on witchcraft. Joe Bavier claims that witches attempted to steal men’s penises. Reuters published: “Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur” (Bavier 2008). Similar to this absurd statement, Wangui Kanina wrote about the mass murder of witches in Kenya, saying “a mob has burned to death at least 11 people accused of witchcraft in an area of west Kenya where traditional beliefs run deep” (Kanina 2008). A year later, UNICEF writer Rebecca Bannor-Addae blamed witchcraft for creating oppressive conditions for children. She published that “studies in neighboring countries suggest that witchcraft accusations against children, women and the elderly may be an expression of the inability of families to solve a crisis or cope with death and illness. Witchcraft also often serves to explain the incomprehensible” (Bannor-Addae 2009). From the three media articles, it is apparent that witchcraft has a negative connotation in modern African society. Unfortunately, this poor assumption of traditional beliefs is a direct result from Europeans inflecting their views upon unique and diverse people.
Appreciating the differences of witchcraft discourse in Azande, Muedan, and South African societies allows one to see the diversity that the practice possesses. In all varieties of witchcraft, the custom creates a moral evaluation and a social hierarchy for its active members. West explains that “Not only did they [individuals who practice witchcraft] …experience [witchcraft’s] reality through its verbal constructs, but they conceived of [witchcraft] and the words that spoke its reality as one and the same” (West 2007: 56). For a western observer, the complexities and applications of witchcraft will always remain impossible to comprehend fully. Unfortunately, the obvious bias against witchcraft continues to discourage any individual looking to appreciate the unique culture. For Africans, witchcraft remains one of few cultural and societal practices authentic to many on the continent. It prevails to be the most malleable and practical moral guideline and social standard for Africans.
Ashforth, Adam. “AIDS, Witchcraft, and the Problem of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Unpublished, May 2001, 1-35.
Bannor-Addae, Rebecca. “Central African Republic: Children, not witches.” Bangui. UNICEF Media Centre, Apr. 2009. UNICEF.
Bavier, Joe. “Penis Theft Panic Hits City…” Kinshasa. Reuters, 23 Apr. 2008.
Butler, Noah, Dr. 2016. “Ethnographic Interlude.” Discussion on Les Maîtres Fous. Loyola University Chicago, Chicago. 16-18 Feb. 2016. Lecture.
Cimpric, Aleksandra. “Children Accused of Witchcraft: An Anthropological Study of Contemporary Practices in Africa.” UNICEF WCARO, Dakar, April 2010. 1-55. UNICEF.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande.” Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 24 Jun. 1976, 63-83.
Hagen, Rune Blix. “The Witch-hunts on African Sorcerers.” Translated by Mark Ledingham. University of Tromsø: The Arctic University of Norway, July 24, 2004. Aftenposten.
Kanina, Wangui. “Mob burns to death 11 Kenyan “witches”. Nairobi. Reuters, 21 May. 2008.
Les Maîtres Fous. Directed by Jean Rouch. Paris: VISA Ministeriel No. 30557, 1955. Ethnofiction.
Lewis, Ioan M. “Witchcraft.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 2016.
Stoller, Paul. “Embodying Colonial Memories; Spirit Possession, Power and the Hauka in West Africa.” Routledge, 29 Sept. 1995, 16-26, 115-124.
Walters, Noah. 18 Feb. 2016. 2×2 Week 6 (February 13 & 15): Ethnographic Interlude. Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago. Paper.
West, Henry G. 2007. Ethnographic Sorcery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.