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Doing Cross-Cultural Text-Based Research

There are five steps in doing an HRAF study (Otterbein 1969):

  • 1. State a hypothesis that requires cross-cultural data.
  • 2. Draw a representative sample of the world’s cultures.
  • 3. Find the appropriate OCM codes in the sample.
  • 4. Code the variables according to whatever conceptual scheme you’ve developed in forming your hypothesis.
  • 5. Run the appropriate statistical tests and see if your hypothesis is confirmed.

Sampling and Galton's Problem

In 1889, Edward Tylor gave a paper at the Royal Society in London in which he tried to relate, among other things, marital residence (matrilocal, patrilocal, etc.) to customs of kin avoidance. Francis Galton asked: Weren’t some of the societies that Mr. Tylor was using in his analysis related to one another? Wouldn’t that negate using them each as an independent example of the same variable?’’

This became known as Galton’s Problem. One way to deal with it is to use the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample of 186 societies (Murdock and White 1969) or the HRAF Probability Sample of 60 societies (HRAF 1967) as your sample. These samples were developed so that the societies would be independent of one another, linguistically and culturally.

Another way is to treat the relation between pairs of societies as an independent vari- able—that is, to measure how close they are linguistically, culturally, or geographically— and to use that variable as a predictor of whatever hypothesis you’re testing (Dow and Eff 2008; Dow et al. 1984).

Or you can, as Carol and Melvin Ember suggest (2001:89), choose a simple random sample from the 400 societies that are currently described in the HRAF archives. If you use the 60-society sample as your corpus, you can run your test on 30 societies and then compare your results to the other 30. If you get the same answers twice, you can be much more confident about them than if you get them just once.

 
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