Cat.2 clarified

The Coordinators Notes of September 2013 contained a clear statement defining what is, and what is not, acceptable as a 'cultural artifact' - the term which is the basis of Category 2 B for acceptable Extended Essays in Group 2.

This clarification has now been adopted formally in the Extended Essay Guide (2018) - se P.128. Anyway, here are the rules of the game, clearly defined...

Clarification of category 2 'cultural artifacts'

The following qualify as 'cultural artifacts'

Written documents



News headlines


Books (other than literary)



Leaflets, brochures or manifestos

Laws or policies

Historical documents or records

Spoken Documents


Radio or television programmes

Song lyrics


Visual documents

Works of fine art

Architecture (buildings, monuments, etc.)



Cultural icons

Fashion items and accessories (as a manifestation of culture)

Food items, dishes (as a manifestation of culture)

Brands (as a manifestation of culture)

The following do not qualify as 'cultural artifacts'

Political events (elections, referendums)

Historical events

Social movements (e.g. riots)

Social issues (unemployment, immigration, racism, school violence, the role of women in X country, etc)

Towns or regions (“travel guide” extended essays)

(Minority) ethnic groups

Media trends

Styles of music



Institutions (school systems, political parties, etc)

The underlying principles

It may help, in order to explain these distinctions to students, to recognise the reasons why some elements of culture are considered acceptable and others not. I believe that there are two principal reasons :

'Artifact' versus 'activity' ... you will notice that all those cultural elements deemed to qualify as 'artifacts' are things; whereas those which do not qualify are activities: social organisations or patterns of behaviour. In other words, 'artifacts' are things you can touch and look at and study, here and now - whereas 'activities' are patterns of behaviour that need to be observed in action, over a period of time, and probably with much help from secondary sources. 'Artifacts', then, are simply more immediate, more restricted and thus more focused - 'activities' are liable to involve topics which are really too large and complicated for a feasible Extended Essay of 4000 words.

Primary versus secondary sources ... as I've just suggested, 'activities' will largely be accessible only through much reading of secondary sources, whereas 'artifacts' are directly accessible, concrete, specific primary sources. The point of the Extended Essay is that students do their own research and develop their own theories and arguments - and this personal development of ideas is less likely if most of the EE consists of second-hand ideas from background reading.

It might be useful to consider that the emphasis on artifacts indicates that the desired approach to the EE is that it should be, at a basic level, inductive rather than deductive - i.e. that the argument should start from some particular detail and then proceed to general ideas, rather than focus on general ideas and proceed to particular details as mere examples.

An illustration

A packet of TEA ...This page may serve to show the general approach to analysing the significance of a 'cultural artifact'. I don't suggest that this analysis of a packet of tea is necessarily, in itself, a good topic for an EE - but it does demonstrate the kind of wide-ranging argument based on relevant background research that can be extracted from an 'artifact' as basic as a packet of tea !

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