Is the Nacirema worth teaching?

In my Cultural Anthropology 2018-2019 course, I assigned the classic 1956 Horace Miner article “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” in the Kenneth Guest edited volume Cultural Anthropology: A Reader for a Global Age. But at the same time I was wondering: Is the Nacirema worth teaching? I asked a similar question in 2020: Does the use of the Nacirema undermine the idea that all humans are connected?

“The Nacirema” is one of the most-assigned articles for introductory anthropology courses and is often used outside of anthropology as well. For this reader, Guest preserved the potential for surprise, stating that “as you read, consider how the Nacirema’s rituals are similar to or different from practices you may have experienced in your own life” (44).

Despite its classic status and heavy use in introductory anthropology courses, a Twitter debate emerged in 2018 about whether we should use this article in class. As a result I began rethinking my own use of the Nacirema.

I asked my Cultural Anthropology 2018-2019 class: What do you think? What is the main take-away point of the Nacirema? What would you identify as problematic aspects of the article? Is the main point worth pursuing even with these problematic aspects?

Or differently put: Is the Nacirema worth teaching? Student answers are in the Disqus comments below.
[Image credit, The Weird, Wonderful Ways of the Nacirema People]

Living Anthropologically means documenting history, interconnection, and power during a time of global transformation. We need to care for others as we attempt to build a world together. This blog is a personal project of Jason Antrosio, author of Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy. For updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow on Twitter.

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