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CODING IN HRAF

If a piece of an ethnography is coded as 682, this means that it is about offenses against life. It does not tell you what the offense is. It may be killing someone by accidentally setting fire to their house; it may be paying a sorcerer to cast a deadly spell on someone who subsequently dies; it may be a revenge or honor killing; or it may be an inappropriate act in battle. The only way to tell is to read the material and convert the primary ethnographic material into usable codes for statistical analysis. You might use 1 = war, 2 = rape, 3 = use of witchcraft, and so on, depending on your particular research problem.

In a classic study, Landauer and Whiting (1964) tested the association between stress (both physical and emotional) in infancy and height. Psychologists had found in lab experiments that stroking rat pups (a very stressful thing to do to a baby rat) led to longer adult rats. Do humans respond as rats do to physical and emotional stress in infancy? Landauer and Whiting tested this on two samples of societies across the world for which sufficient data were available.

The dependent variable here is mean adult male height and the independent variable is the presence of piercing (lips, nose, scarification, circumcision) or molding (of arms or legs or head) during the first 24 months of life. Table 19.7 shows the result.

Table 19.7 The Results of Landauer and Whiting's Study

Piercing or molding present during first 24 months

Study 1 (35 societies)

Present(n = 17)

Absent (n = 18)

Mean height

65.18 inches

62.69 inches

t = 3.72, p < .002

Study 2 (30 societies)

Present(n = 19)

Absent (n = 11)

Mean height

66.05 inches

63.41 inches

t = 4.68, p < .001

SOURCE: T. K. Landauer and J. W. M. Whiting, ''Infantile Stimulation and Adult Stature of Human Males,'' American Anthropologist, Vol. 66, no. 5, pp. 1007-28,1964.

Landauer and Whiting knew they had to be very cautious about interpreting the results shown in table 19.7 because correlation does not, by itself, imply cause. It could be that parents who put their infants through this kind of stress give those children more food or better medical care, which supports growth. Or it could be that boys who are stressed during infancy become more aggressive and only the tallest survive. ‘‘This,’’ said Landauer and Whiting, ‘‘is the problem with correlational research’’ (1964:1018).

Still, they were able to control for, and rule out, variations in sunlight (and hence in the body’s production of vitamin D) and variations in population genetics—two factors that are well known to cause variations in height. More importantly, they took an idea from the lab (where internal validity is strong because of the controlled conditions of the experiment) and tested it in the field. Yes, the experiments were on lab animals, but the experiments on rats were about manipulation (all that stroking) of endocrines that are known to control growth. Why not, they asked, test this across species, as well as across cultures?

The key to this research is not the data about adult height. It’s the coding of the ethnographic, textual data about piercing, molding, scarring, circumcising, and so on. In the end, in content analysis as in all research, you have to make the measurements.

Over the years, as researchers have used HRAF, they’ve read through the primary materials and coded variables that were germane to their particular studies. Barry and Schlegel (1980) edited a book containing published codes for several hundred variables on the 186-society sample developed by Murdock and White (1969). The World Cultures Journal (WCJ) has published most of the codes in Barry and Schlegel on diskette and continues to publish codes from cross-cultural studies (http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/ —drwhite/worldcul/world.htm), and codes for 300 variables have been published on disk by HRAF Press for a 60-society sample (box 19.4).

BOX 19.4

PUBLISHING CODES

Coding is painstaking work. Carol and Melvin Ember (2002) were interested in the relationship between various aspects of child rearing (If corporal punishment is present in a society, is it usually the mother or the father who does it? Are fathers usually present or absence in infants' lives? How much does the father care for infants?) and the amount of interpersonal viollence in societies by adult men. Some of the codes they used on child-rearing practices had been published elsewhere, but it took the Embers 4 years to code the variables for frequency of war and interpersonal aggression in the 186-society sample, so, like most cross-cultural researchers, they published those codes (Ember and Ember 1992).

Testing hypotheses on published codes contributes to theory in anthropology. Using published codes, Barber (1998) found that the frequency of male homosexual activity was low in hunting and gathering societies and increased with the complexity of agricultural production. Ethnographic reports of male homosexuality were also more likely for societies in which women did not control their own sexuality—a well-known correlate of increased reliance on complex agriculture.

 
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