(For more help with deciphering your assignments, see our handout on understanding assignments.) Writing a “critical” essay does not mean focusing only on the most negative aspects of a particular reading or theory.
Instead, a critical essay should evaluate or assess both the weaknesses and the merits of a given set of readings, theories, methods, or arguments.
The types of writing that you do in your anthropology course will depend on your instructor’s learning and writing goals for the class, as well as which subfield of anthropology you are studying.
Each writing exercise is intended to help you to develop particular skills.
An ethnography is a social, political, and/or historical portrait of a particular group of people or a particular situation or practice, at a particular period in time, and within a particular context or space. Then write a reflective response about your experience that answers this question: how is riding a bus about more than transportation?
Ethnographies have traditionally been based on an anthropologist’s long-term, firsthand research (called fieldwork) in the place and among the people or activities s/he is studying. In some assignments, you might be asked to evaluate the claims different researchers have made about the emergence and effects of particular human phenomena, such as the advantages of bipedalism, the origins of agriculture, or the appearance of human language.
Your anthropology courses will often require you to evaluate how successfully or persuasively a particular anthropological theory addresses, explains, or illuminates a particular ethnographic or archaeological example.
When your instructor tells you to “argue,” “evaluate,” or “assess,” s/he is probably asking for some sort of critical essay.
Using course materials and outside readings, examine three authors’ hypotheses for the origins of bipedalism.
Compare the supporting points (such as fossil evidence and experimental data) that each author uses to support his or her claims.