Ethnography Research of The Polarities in Society

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The world we live in was built upon and maintained on the idea of polar opposites and juxtapositions for everything: darkness and light; day and night; decency and evilness; and pleasure and pain. The fact that the world is full of polarities is not new, since the world is explicitly dualistic; and is nothing but a hybrid of polarities. Consequently, people tend to always struggle in order to maintain a corresponding balance between the two opposing forces. The existence of polarities provides a meaning to one’s world. Moreover, if polar opposites did not exist there would be a devoid of any meaning because it would be difficult to know what the right is when the left does not exist. Therefore, polarities are omnipresent in the interpersonal life of each and every human being on this world and they are extremely visible. Yet, there exists a grey area between all the polar opposites in our lives, but people deliberately choose to ignore it because it is embedded in their everyday life, so they choose to take these polarities for granted and deal with them just like normal every day concerns. As a result, there is this prevailing idea that this grey area that links both binaries or opposites is nonexistent, and this is what creates the black and white dichotomous separations. However, these false dichotomous separations or binaries ignore the relationship on which these dichotomies are created. People usually say that opposites attract, and they have built their world upon the furoin of opposites going back and forth until they harmonize; yet, they tend to create that resilient bond between polar opposites, claiming that since they are opposites or contradicting, they can’t be miscellaneous. Nowadays, even if people acknowledge the fact that polarities exist, they frequently miss out on creating the complex relationship between these polarities. People have been taught to assume that it is right to think of polarities just as things that contrast one another, ignoring the daily experiences that prove otherwise. Polarities should motivate people to look for and create relationships between everything they see; because in order to gain a better understanding of this world, one must analyze the relationship between the widespread polarities that surround the everyday life of everyone. Polarities are conspicuous in everything around us including worship places, spaces around us, and our own bodies, yet they are not effectively conveyed.

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Amongst the most common polarities is the polarity of the right and left; one that is seen and addressed every single day. Figurative distinctions between the left and right are what cause cultural classifications among people. Numerous theories have developed from clinical evidence about the alleged physiological and neurological reasons of the inclinations and performances of the right versus the left in human behavior. Robert Hertz in his prominent piece of literature, “The Pre-eminence of The Right Hand: A Study of Religious Polarity”, addressed the asymmetry in the body and hands in the context of the dichotomy perspective of left and right. He assumed that in the right versus left hand feud, the right was the most prevailing and vital as he said: to the right hand go honors: It acts, orders and takes. The left hand, however, is despised and is given a mediocre role. Moreover, he claimed that the role of the left hand is nothing but a secondary mediocre role where it just assists and supports the right hand. Hertz, moreover, claims that the asymmetry is perpetuated socioculturally, which to a certain extent makes just perfect sense due to several reasons. One of these reasons being the fact that society pressures left-handers into exerting more effort and using their right hands instead. (ask if you can add an anecdote). Not only this, but societies have also cultivated the use of the right and discriminate against the left; that is why, from Hertz’s point of view, right handers are preferred to left-handers socially. Hertz states that according to a tribe called the Maori what is considered profane is the left side is considered the side of death as well as the profane side, while on the other hand, the right is considered the sacred as well as the side of life.This social polarity is, in fact, a reflection of the religious polarity that exists and has given room for social polarity to exist and become widespread. According to Hertz, on religious polarity, a fundamental dualism that is “sacred” and “profane” dominates the spiritual world; since the right hand is the one used in Prayer and since Gods lie on the right side, whereas, demons lie on the left side. Moreover, the worshipper has to instinctively face the region where the sun rises which is the right side. All the polarities in this world have been created to teach human beings how to distinguish and to oppose his right and his left. The primary task of religious studies is not to address these polarities however important they may be in establishing confuting theories proposed by neurologists, physiologists, or even anthropologists; yet, these polarities are addressed and even encouraged in several religious texts. As for the left and right polarity and symbolism in Islam, there are several undeniable evidences that can be found. Muslims are required to face toward the east when perfuming all religious rituals. Additionally, Muslims are ordered to enter the bathrooms with their left foot, because they are entering the house of the devil, and exist with their right foot as they are exiting the house of the devil. Not only this, but Muslims are also ordered to drink with their right hands and not with the left because if they ate with the left Satan will be joining the meal. Similarly, in Christianity the right hand is symbolic of rulership, authority, sovereignty, blessing, and strength and is also significant in scripture. All of this evidence supports the idea that Hertz has mentioned regarding the right being denoted to as the sacred or holy and the left as the profane or impure. This also elaborates the fact that a preference is being given for the right foot or hand to perform noble tasks in religious rituals as well as regular everyday chores among numerous cultures, both civilized and primitive. On the other hand, however, the left foot and hand are assigned auxiliary tasks. Therefore, it could be claimed that the asymmetry or the polarity arising between the left and the right is a result of both social and religious notions that have been embedded and implanted in the people.

In Islam and Christianity, the right versus left polarity and the favoring of the right because of the prevailing idea that it sacred and that the left is profane and impure is extremely discernable. In my visit to Samaan El-Kharaz monastery, it was obvious how prevailing and prominent the idea of the sacredness of the right side was when I saw that the women were sitting on the left from the perspective of the priest and that the men were on the right. Due to the fact that it is believed that women are also impure and profane, so they were assigned the left side because it is also impure. Moreover, when the priest was splashing the blessed water after the ritual was done, he used his right hand because it is considered blessed and sacred as well. Correspondingly, when I was visiting the shrine of Uqba ibn Amir, which is located inside the Uqba Ibn Amir mosque, we were supposed to enter the masjid with our right feet because the mosque is considered a holy place, so we have to use our sacred foot when getting inside.

In my visit to Saman El-Kharaz monastery, I realized that women are prohibited from giving communion due to the fact that they menstruate, therefore, they are considered impure because to people and societies menstruation symbolizes death and death is considered unappealing and impure. Not only this, but also due to the fact that women menstruate, and therefore are considered impure or profane, they are not allowed to cross the alter because it is considered a holy or a sacred place where impurities should not be permitted to come across. The pure versus impure dichotomy was reflected upon by Mary Douglas in her book, “Purity and Danger.” According to Douglas, our beliefs about purity imply a systematic classification of matter; societies avoid articular foods, animals, or substances because they are considered impure. Douglas argues that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is not disappearing as time goes on but is rather “manifesting” itself even more in secular terms of clean and unclean. Douglas, in her book, further argues that the distinction between cleanliness and uncleanliness is standard for all cultures even the primitive ones; therefore, it can be inferred from what Douglas says that the polarity between holiness and profanity is a cultural matter that is determined by actual and symbolic structures. She, moreover, went on to say from her point of view that as dirt represents power and creativity, purity should stand for rigidity and lack of change. What Douglas is trying to say here is that despite the rejection of dirt and pollution by most religions, what she calls “primitive religions” are now unveiling that through paradox and contradiction. These religions emphasize on the importance of dirt and how much it is needed as part of replacing what has been rejected, incorporating the process of renewal. Douglas argues that essentially, rituals help create clearly defined boundaries around purity and profanity that both help assure society that the world is more certain and under control and that help provide a set of tools to facilitate the understanding of the world. What Douglas was trying to deliver and what also makes great sense in the modern world is the fact that the purity and impurity discourses act as homeostatic system which ensures the preservation of this social whole. So, the purity versus impurity dichotomy is necessary to maintain the social equilibrium despite all the feud and debates that are circulating this topic.

Moreover, one of the most stereotypical and common polarities, is the polarity between genders. When discussing gender polarities, people usually tackle it from a shallow perspective, consequently, they undermine the crucial issues in this dichotomy. Gender and the way each gender is perceived by societies indeed affects people’s actions and expectations of themselves and others. The societal gender binary claims that a man is supposed to be masculine and a woman is feminine, as a result, a stigma is accordingly created against anything that deviates from that standard. Anyone can point out the characteristics that would be favorable or belong to male or female, because this is what society has implanted inside people. Gender polarities are created and maintained by societies, just like all other polarities. Societies have set descriptions for females and males, and no one is supposed to deviate from these descriptions if they want to be socially accepted. Women are depicted in as mediocre and impure regardless of the social or economic standard they fill, just because they have the predisposition of menstruating. On the other hand, men are depicted as the leaders of this society, and they are of course considered pure. In my recent visit to Uqba Ibn Amir’s shrine and to the sightseeing of Rabia Al-Adaweya, the idea of gender stereotyping was especially evident there. While Uqba was depicted and considered a scholar because he was one of the contemporaries of Prophet Muhammed, and because he was considered a man of faith, Rabia was depicted as a “bride”. Despite the fact that Rabia was once enslaved and that she was a poet, they still depicted her as a bride because of the gendering stereotypes that is overwhelming and controlling them. This is somehow what Sherry Ortner discussed in Is Female To Male As Nature Is To Culture; she argues that because women have the ability to reproduce, they are seen as closer to nature in many cases. She draws a conclusion that even though females may be dominant in certain areas or chores, when it comes to esteemed positions, men are the ones who obtain them even if women are considered better. What Ortner says elaborates on the idea of the set gendering in societies, she basically says that no matter what women do, they will remain in that angle and all the stereotypes will continue to chase them, however. Leila Abu Lughod in her book “Veiled Sentiments” elaborates on how a tribe called Awlad Ali treat their women as subordinates. The men of this tribe believe that women should have no right of education or freedom and they should stick to the roles assigned to them which is taking care of the household and the children. This takes us to the depiction of Rabia as a bride; no matter how much a woman works hard or is trying to prove herself society will always have their expectations of women set according to the societal rules. Furthermore, Michael Stewart’s “Shame of The Body”, discusses the purity and impurity section of the gender dichotomy. He argues that what Gypsy women are extremely ashamed of is the fact that they menstruate; to hide this shame they are obliged to wear aprons of top of their skirts once they hit puberty. Not only this, but Gypsy women reported feelings of unease after giving birth due to the fact that they were considered impure and were accordingly forced to stay inside the house for three consecutive days. On the other hand, since men were considered pure because they do not menstruate, so they are not ashamed of anything. Gypsy men can enjoy their lives freely, sleep with any woman they want because the societal rules don’t limit them in any way possible. The pure versus impure dichotomy in gender also reminded me of my visit to Samaan El-kharaz when I attended the mass. I figured out that even though women made up the majority of the attendees, they were not allowed to cross the alter nor where they allowed to receive communion due to the fact that they menstruate, so they are considered impure. Since the mass is a holy ritual and menstruating women are considered impure, they are not allowed inside the hall where the mass is being conducted. It is evident that societal along with religious rules are the main reasons behind the inferior view of women and they widen the polarity between both genders with their stereotypical expectations and rules.

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Several politicians (people), try to build a polarity between politics and religion or just represent them as binaries. They try to represent the idea of separating the terms politics and religion and convince people that a difference actually exists. However, I don’t really see the polarity between religion and politics and so do numerous esteemed anthropologists and theorists. Presenting religion and politics as binaries that are not related to each other even from distance makes little sense because in most cultures- primitive and modern- the politics and religion realms are not only closely knotted, but they are immiscible and indistinguishable. Moreover, the leading theorist in religious studies Jonathan Smith said in his book “From Babylon to Jonestown” that European intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries started to portray religion as a separate category of human activity. As a result of this, Smith adds, they began to feel the necessity of separating religion and politics in order to obtain a rational, secular society. Moreover, Raymond Firth in his article, Spiritual Aroma: Religion and Politics, argues that both religion and politics share the same end goal; which is acquiring political power or power in general in order to fulfil their intentions. However what distinct both politics and religion is not the fact that they are just different, but because their methods of achieving and attaining this power is indeed extremely different. Firth, then, says that both religion and politics “make calculations and focus on emptions”. Furthermore, Firth specifies that religion focuses on provoking religious sensibilities in people in order to get their support, on the other hand, politics uses deception, diplomacy, and attempts at winning the religion-politics debate democratically. In most cultures, religion and politics are destined in an extremely close relationship, however, governments want religion to be dealt with and viewed in a certain standard way and whoever deviates from that depiction gets arrested just like what happened to Samia according to Angie Heo.

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Ethnography Research Of The Polarities In Society. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“Ethnography Research Of The Polarities In Society.” GradesFixer, 01 Sept. 2020,
Ethnography Research Of The Polarities In Society. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Sept. 2023].
Ethnography Research Of The Polarities In Society [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Sept 28]. Available from:
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