A Summary of Thick Description – The Interpretation of Cultures
Posted on September 4, 2012 by Imran Ahmed Jafri
In The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz outlines in broader sense the job of anethnographer. The ethnographer’s role is to observe and analyse a culture by interpreting signs to understand deeper meanings within the context of that culture. He asserts that the essentially semiotic nature of culture has implications for the social sciences in general and political science in particular. His idea of culture is taken from Kluckhohn, where he feels culture is 1) ―the total way of life of a people‖; 2) ―the social legacy the individual acquires from his group‖; 3) ―a way of thinking, feeling, and believing‖; 4) ―an abstraction from behaviour‖; 5) ―a theory on the part of the anthropologist about the way in which a group of people in fact behave‖;
‖ Geertz observes how—in order to differentiate the winking from a social gesture. 3.—we must carefully analyse the action in terms of both the particular social understanding of the ―winking‖ as a gesture. 2. Specifying the internal relationships among those elements and. a twitch.6) ―a storehouse of pooled learning‖. etc. the real intention of the winker. 12) a behavioural map. 7) ―a set of standardized orientations to recurrent problems‖. or matrix. 8) ―learned behaviour‖. ethnography is by definition ― thick description‖—―an elaborate venture in. 11) ―a precipitate of history‖. the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression. According to Geertz’s.
.‖ By example of ―winking. Geertz prescribes interpreting a culture’s web of symbols by 1. 9) ―a mechanism for the normative regulation of behaviour‖. characterize the whole system in some general way—according to the core symbols around which it is organized. sieve. 10) ―a set of techniques for adjusting both to the external environment and to other men‖. or the ideological principles upon which it is based. Isolating its elements. and how the the meaning of the winking action itself is interpreted.
Geertz refutes previous anthropological perspectives which viewed culture as a vast array of values. On the contrary. Thick description is for Geertz a methodological imperative which takes into account the structure and nature of a culture's semiotic formations. tradition and so for the in favor of a more narrow definition of the term "culture". This is the basis for Geertz's notion of "thick description". Culture for Geertz is far from an abstract psychological construct. a sort of public act in which people express themselves using various signs and symbols which have preascribed cultural meaning. culture for Geertz is embodied in the person who acts out of and in a certain context. Following Max Webber. Geertz views people as being entangled in webs of meaning that are of their own making.Clifford Geertz: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture – Summary. In "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" Geertz uses the example of a wink which can be seen as just a contraction of the eyelids or as sign which bears cultural as well as contextual meanings. Culture is in this sense concrete and public. and not something which exists in people's individual minds. Geertz distinguished "thick description' from "thin description" which is a factual account of a culture that does not include hermeneutic interpretation which is required by the thick description. techniques.
In "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" Geertz views culture in semiotic terms. and culture is revealed in this person's actions and his interpretation of their meaning.
Following his perception of culture Geertz holds that the ethnographer's task is in fact the same of someone who belongs to a certain culture – to have a deep and rooted understanding of in the semiotics – symbols and meanings – of the culture. Review and analysis
Culture is the center of Clifford Geertz's discussion in "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture".
Clifford Geertz – "From the Native's Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding" . Java and Morocco which are rather different from the western perception of the self as unique. for example. Geertz finds that the notion of person is organized through two sets of contradictions: inside/outside and refined/vulgar. The refined/vulgar distinction refer to a moral aspect in which the person assumes his correct position in the word.
In "From the Native's Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding" Geertz deals with methodological and epistemological question pertaining to the anthropological quest for an adequate representation of another culture's experience of reality. Geertz compare the perceptions of "person" in Bali. Geertz also discussed the anthropoligist's role in tracing and deciphering these meaning structures by coinciding his own as well as the native's point of view.
Geertz demonstrates his point through a comperative discussion of how deferent cultures perceive the concept of "person".summary. as a web weaved by man himself which makes the world understandable. The inside/outside distinction refers to two distinct realms: personal and private emotions and external behavior. In Morocco the main principle according to Geertz is that of " nisba" which denotes or interpolates the person's always relative social identity. In Java. it is both. Geertz views culture as embodies in public signs and symbols. review and analysis
In "From the Native's Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding" (in: Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology") Clifford Geertz refines some of the main ideas presented in his previous studies such as "thick description" and "cultural meaning". which is the spontaneous and unaware experience.
In Bali Geertz shows how a rich and complex structure of personal denotations construct the person and his place in the social order (see: "Person Time and Conduct in Bali").
According to Geertz the anthropologist's task in neither objective nor subjective. with "experience-distant" is the conceptualized account of reality. The anthropologist according to Geertz always shifts back and forth between these two forms of experience.
. consistent and whole. He demonstrates this point by opposing "experience-near".
Time in Bali is simultaneous and all people are each other's contemporary.
. Therefore the study of culture according to Geertz is the study of the mechanism employed by individuals and groups in order to orient themselves in the world. thus promoting a relative anonymousation of the personality. time and subsequent behaviour.
In Geertz's view cultural patterns are the means through which people attribute meaning and structure various events in their lives.Clifford Geertz . He demonstrates this notion and his idea of "thick description" in the case of the Balinese people and the manner in which they conceive and interpret the sense of being a person. According to Geertz one of the focal points of the need for the orientation is the private individual and his definition as a social unit. misstraslated as "shame". the Balinese name system seeks to obscure temporal differences between people and attempts at constructing them as sharing the same time.summary
Clifford Geertz views culture as a public performance of signs and symbolic acts (see: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture). Geertz shows how personal perceptions in Bali are linked to perceptions of time. change and conflict.
Finally. Geertz's main thesis in "Person Time and Conduct in Bali" is that there exists interdependence between perceptions of the person.Person Time and Conduct in Bali . where do we come from. These mechanisms serve as private solutions to the universal existential problems of cognition and orientation by answering questions like who we are. time and conduct which all stem from human experience and the attempt to organize social life. The next step for Geertz is try to trace the characteristics of these social experiences such as integration. which for the Balinese is not linear as it is in the West but rather fragmented with specific meanings assigned to specific days. In "Person Time and Conduct in Bali" (in "Interpretation of Culture") geertz discusses the importance of recognizing the nature of human thought and perception as an employed social mechanism for cultural analysis. Social structures organize and construct personal identity and Geertz uses the example of Bali and the Balinese people to show hoe their complex system of names and social denotations of individuals function to construct such as personal identity through an established perception of time and existence. the relation between us and other people and between us and nature. perceptions of the self and time are linked according to Geertz to conduct and behavior. Geertz discusses the Balinese term of "lek".
According to Geertz. which refers to one's failure to play out is role in social performance.
as Geertz puts it. Social tensions are represented through the cockfight. The Balinese cockfight is. Geertz argues that what is at stake is much more fundamental than just money. In the case of the Balinese cockfight. prestige and status.
Although gambling is a major and central part of the Balinese cockfight. Geertz distinguishes "deep fights". with what he most fears. a way of playing with fire without getting burned. at least at the time "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" was written (1972). but also.the powers of darkness". namely. However. Following Bentham. usually with low wages of both gambling and prestige. and at the same time.
Participants of the "deep fights" are usually dominant members of society.
"Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is one of Clifford Geertz's most influential articles which illustrates not only the meaning of a given cultural phenomenon. Geertz shows how the Balinese cockfight serves as a cultural text which embodies. the Balinese cockfight. hates. is fascinated by. it's just a cockfight.Clifford Geertz: "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" – summary and review
To start form the bottom line. they have a deep identification with their cocks (yes. or even his penis.
Despite being illegal. Clifford Geertz's essential notion expressed in "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" (1972) is that a people's culture is an ensemble of rituals which are in themselves ensembles. but also Geertz's interpretative approach that sees a culture as a set of texts to be read by the anthropologist. the odds are more even and the bets are more balanced. with cockfights assisting in making sure of that. clan. financial gain is not the center of the event. what the real meaning of being Balinese is. the Balinese man is identifying not only with his ideal self.) and is therefore the most overt manifestation of social rivalry.
. at least a portion of. with bets serving only to symbolize the risk. village etc. But it is a momentary gain or lost. but rather everything which is expressed in the concept of "status". but after all. Fighting always takes place between people (and cocks) from opposing social groups (family. cockfighting is a widespread and highly popular phenomenon in Bali. with their cocks) and "in identifying with his cock. and ambivalence being what it is. and "shallow fights". Geertz reports that the Balinese people deeply detest animals and more specifically expressions of animal-like behavior. With bets fairly even in the case of a deep fights. with high wages. Cockfighting is a fight for statues. according to Geertz. and a way of addressing these rivalries. the statues is only gained or lost momentarily following the fight but is maintained in the long run. However the fight. Geertz defines a "deep fight" is one in which the stakes are so high the people lose their rationality. and these texts are what the anthropologist is trying to decipher. a deep fight is one in which results are unpredictable. People never bet against a cock from their own reference group. is not between individuals but is rather a simulation of the social structure of kinship and social groups.
It is a society's manner of speaking to itself about itself.
. It is a symbolic manufactured representation of something very real in our social life. the deeper the cockfight is. The fights both represent and take part in forming the social and cultural structure of the Balinese people which are dramatized through the cockfight. and is therefore of prime interest for the anthropologist. says Geertz.
The "deep play" of the Balinese cockfight. is like artworks which illustrate an essential insight into our very existence.Geertz also notes that the higher the status of the participants in the cockfight.
Rituals such as the Balinese cockfight. and the deeper it the more a person identifies with his cock and the more the financial aspect of gambling associated with the fight is marginal in comparison with the symbolic aspects of it. It channels aggression and rivalry into an indirect symbolic sphere of engagement. Geertz concludes. are a form of text which can be read.
But shouldn't an anthopologist. This groundbreaking book. helped define for an entire generation of anthropologists what their field is ultimately about.
Rating: 2 Geertz has done much to enrich our understanding of societies. "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight": "The villagers dealt with us as Balinese seem always to deal with people not part of their life who yet press
. the most original anthropologist of his generation moved far beyond the traditional confines of his discipline to develop an important new concept of culture. also be evaluated for how fairly s/he looks at other cultures? And here I think work like some contained in this book is indefensible. winner of the 1974 Sorokin Award of the American Sociological Association. of all people. How can essentializing. stereotyping garbage like this be sold by anyone as great anthropology? From the last essay in the collection. Basic Book Classics
In The Interpretation of Cultures. and the role ideas and beliefs play within them.The
Publisher: Basic Books Number Of Pages: 480 Publication Date: 1977-05-18 ISBN-10 / ASIN: 0465097197 ISBN-13 / EAN: 9780465097197 Binding: Paperback Download link: The Interpretation of Cultures.
Summary: An Imperative Classic Rating: 5 "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. customs and interactions that take place within a specific culture. is it ever possible for one to grasp an understanding of a culture in which one was not born into? Are humans socialized from birth to perceive all cultural customs and practices through a shady lens.
upon didn't occur
them: to you
though perhaps they
were didn't like
not you and
there. however insignificant they may seem to the observer. essentializing. I'm shocked that so few are bugged by his patronizing. Detail is of utmost importance. that has to be on this page. or my grandma Grace upon returning from her ten-day vacation to the island? In sum." These cultural "webs of significance" Clifford Geertz speaks of are constructed of religious beliefs and practices. and plain bellicose mode of looking at other cultures in some other. practices. I take culture to be those webs. even then. no matter how many "unhelpful" votes I get. clouded by perceptions of the world they have acquired during childhood? Geertz believes that. but it's not annoying to do because the points he is making are so excellent. I think this is an important point. the role of the anthropologist is. Of course." Find me a culture to which most of this doesn't apply.
Summary: An Academic Giant Rating: 5 This is a book for scholars but it is very readable and will definitely throw you into what anthropology is (should be?) about. is a much less horrifying crime than bestiality. According to Geertz. to 'decode' the symbolic meanings of these certain events.." you?
"To anyone who has been in Bali the identification of Balinese men with their cocks is unmistakable" C'mon. one could easily say that it is imperative that anthropologists emerge themselves in the customs and practices of that culture. cultural customs. An anthropologist must become part of the culture -.themselves Easy. in order to reduce the occurrence of the anthropologist's own cultural bias and to attempt to more accurately understand a culture. attitudes and behavior -." Is it the great anthropologist speaking here. it is important to understand that anthropological writing is merely a "thick description.looking in from the outside he will understand nothing. You might have to read through each essay a couple of times to make sure you understood the points he was making. But." an interpretation of an
. One of the best book purchases I have ever made.
"The Balinese never do anything in a simple way that they can contrive to do in a complicated one.. Incest. pal.everything around us that we have constructed as rational beings capable of thought and imagination. while to some extent it is possible to reach an understanding of a culture outside of our own. don't y'all just see how they identify?
"The Balinese revulsion against any behavior regarded as animal-like can hardly be overstressed. Babies are not allowed to crawl for that reason. I mean. social interactions. though hardly approved. in a sense. while I can certainly see why so many find some of Geertz's work valuable and inspiring.
to be an active participant in the culture. Geertz explains his semiotics when he writes: "To look at the symbolic dimensions of social action . and serves as a great introduction for anyone just curious about anthropology. Believing. The second idea is that man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extragenetic. usages. habit clusters . I take culture to be those webs. a doctrine in a clause demands itself some explication" (p5) In part 1. what role it plays in social life. The essential vocations. Geertz identifies what he sees as the phenomenon of ideology and how ideology is vilified as a space for something that is epistemologically "Other"." It is the job of an anthropologist to first attempt to understand how an event is interpreted by the culture in which it takes place. and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. been the case up to now. In other words. It is difficult. thereby. Geertz explores different dimensions of culture. a more exact image of man. but to make available to us answers that others. Part 4 is the "thickest" sets of essays including "Ideology As a Cultural System" and "The Politics of Meaning". guarding other sheep in other valleys. ideology. In chapter 8. categorically logical or rational about anthropological writing: Cultural analysis is strictly the process of creating various hypotheses. with Max Weber. then to make an interpretation of that interpretation. law. The last portion is his examination of Levi-Strauss and Geertz's "breaking through the veil" in "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. The first of these is that culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns . Culture is a "template" or "program". This book is THE classical text for a modern cultural anthropologist.for the governing of behavior. traditions. But this pronouncement. and proposes a methodology with which it should be studied. that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself spun.art. such as cultural programs. examining those hypotheses. morality. science. but as a set of control mechanisms . It's also an excellent book for anyone skeptical of social science in general. As Geertz says. we learn it then modify it. have given. the first essay in the series explains the complexity of culture and what it is.as has. rules. and most importantly.
Summary: From Universals to Particulars Rating: 5 The Interpretation of Culture by Clifford Geertz is concerned with articulating a particular view of what culture is." (p30) In part 2. and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said. and whose utility the essays below attempt to demonstrate. if not impossible. "The concept of culture I espouse.customs. and then it is left up to the reader of anthropological writing to interpret the final interpretations. according to Geertz. outside-the-skin control mechanisms. thus. the anthropologist is interpreting the culture's interpretation of the event that is taking place. rather. Geertz posits that culture should not be seen as a science in search of law but instead as an interpretation in search of meaning. "In attempting to launch such an integration from the anthropological side and to reach.is not to turn away from the existential dilemmas of life for some empyrean realm of deemotionalized forms: it is to plunge into the midst of them." I will deal with the latter first then tackle what I see as his inability to see merit in the universals. is essentially a semiotic one. pejorative) one is readily enough demonstrated. and then deriving explanations from the best hypotheses. It is explication I am after. common sense . I want to propose two ideas."" (p196) The final section part 5 is where is all come together for me. There is nothing precise. is to construct the finest interpretations possible. Geertz begins with "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture".interpretation. to derive any absolute factual conclusion from data constructed of so many interpretive layers. This. rather than a passive observer. As individuals. construing social expression on their surface enigmatical. for ordering his behavior. As if transported by some form of deja vu. "[The study of ideology] deals with a mode of thinking which is thrown off its proper course. interpretation is not definitive. religion. recipes. "an interpretive one in search of meaning. I "feel"
. The role of an anthropologist. the analysis of it is not an "experimental science in search of law" but. "That the conception of ideology now regnant in the social sciences is a thoroughly evaluative (that is.plans." (p44) Part 3 centers on religion. instructions (what computer engineers call "programs") . Geertz fails to explain how these templates come to be and be modified but posits that they become "common sense" of Platonic propositions and continue to be so. by and large.
This accounts both for the power of his work and for its general appeal. To think that somehow culture exists out there for us to grab and chose and that it is somehow transferred through our genes and eventually influences evolution is outright ridiculous.Geertz when he wrote about suddenly being part of the milieu. But it also accounts for the more intraprofessional suspicion that what is presented as High Science may really be an ingenious and somewhat roundabout attempt to defend a metaphysical position. now let us get it off our feet. There is little evidence to show that the human race is still undergoing evolution in the Darwinian sense. is right.. Geertz elaborates on this premise in his critique of Levi-Strauss and his work in "Tristes Tropique".taken refuge in bloodless universals".. The lack of biological evidence to back up Geertz's claims is immense. Geertz seeks to cast doubt on everything without leaving us with anything in place. Coming out in a generation that was starting to reflect on "how" they were writing rather than "what" they were writing about.
. is responsible for so much killing. Geertz sees this form of inquiry as bankrupt as anthropologists have ". inane theory behind us all. Geertz begins his anti-humanist attack on a less reflective mode of writing that. Anti-Science Rating: 2 In the typical post-modernist sense. (p5). then he is complicit in this move to reinforce placing Man at the center and to submit us to its results. distinguish between the mind and the brain shows his general distaste for any sort of reasonable logic. With Geertz and Foucault we can hopefully find a more "enlightened" middle ground. and serve a moral cause. much can still be learned from that scientific/humanist Man centered project. Geertz's critique is a reflection on Levi-Strauss' lack of self reflexivity. so it has our attention. In a move that parallels Foucault's in "The Order of Things". we do not gain anything but perhaps a somewhat edited understanding of our world. The Enlightenment and its project has been credited for the wonderfully contradictory le mission civilastrice which accord to Fanon is such a contradiction in that the ideology that places man at the center. his theories are so vague. Please: Someone rescue anthropology from its current blinding veil of post modernist. Just like other post modernists. and leave this decrepit. on the inside causes epistemic violence and on the outside is naive and self delusory. Geertz's failure. In "The Cerebral Savage: On the work of Claude LeviStrauss" Geertz takes apart Levi-Strauss and his humanistic/scientific project." (p346-347). advance argument. poorly stated. To think the Central Nervous System is a result of culture is simply asinine. If Levi-Strauss is doing the same thing theoretically. OK.are turned in toward one another so as to force a direct confrontation between them rather than (as is more common among ethnologists) out away from one another so as to avoid such a confrontation and the inward stresses which go with it. post-structuralist ideology. It rings with boldness and a kind of reckless candor. "In Levi-Strauss' work the two faces of anthropology . Just because you can make claims and cast doubt on opposing claims does not mean you are correct. Post modernism is like chewing gum that sticks to your shoe sole and impedes you from moving forward. or rather deliberate attempt to. The field of cultural anthropology in and of itself is a "shady" field. Miguel Llora
Summary: Just a Continuation of Anti-Progressive. Even if he. However. like other post-modernists. move on into the future.as a way of going at the world and as a method for uncovering lawful relations among empirical facts . and in generally strange that they cannot be proved right or wrong. I agree with Geertz and Foucault with regards to the complexity and need to effect a "thick" description.