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Cross-Cultural Interpretation 
Clifford Geertz, selections from The Interpretation of Cultures Peter Winch, selections from The Idea of a Social Science Peter Winch, “Understanding a Primitive Society”
OUTLINES Clifford Geertz, selections from The Interpretation of Cultures Chapter 1: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture 1. Evolution of theoretical concepts, from du jour grande idée that is applied to everything possible to “part of our general stock of theoretical concepts” 1.1. Seems like new “positive science” at first 1.2. Fits the history of the concept of culture 1.3. “Cutting of the culture concept down to size,” which ensures its continual relevancy 1.4. Trend in conceptualization of culture in anthropology scattered so far 1.5. Geertz‟s definition of culture: “a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.” 2. Anthropology and ethnography 2.1. Difference in movements observed from phenomenalistic, “I-am-a-camera” approach versus an interpretive one 2.1.1. First is radically behaviorist—thin description 2.1.2. Second is thick description, the object of ethnography 184.108.40.206. “A stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures in terms of [what is] produced, perceived, and interpreted… without which [the movements] would note as a cultural category… in fact exist” 2.2. “What we call data are really our own constructions of other people‟s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to” 2.2.1. This view of data and what this information can do leads ups to think anthropology is less interpretive “than it really is,” but really the discipline is “explicating explications” 2.3. Ethnography is thick description 2.3.1. The ethnographer faces structures, “at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit” 3. Is culture subjective or objective? 3.1. Is culture patterned conduct or a frame of mind, or mixed? 3.1.1. Important question “not what their ontological status is” (it‟s real in the sense of being in the world anyways) but what is getting said, i.e. Ricoeur‟s sagen 3.1.2. Geertz rejects that we can reduce culture to the “brute patterns of behavioral events”
Ethnography is “finding your feet” 4.4. Specify internal relationships 5. Geertz: “coherence cannot be the major test of validity for a cultural description” 5.1. something within which they can be intelligibly—that is. “We gain empirical access to them [cultural systems] by inspecting events. thickly— described” 4. Cultures are “intertwined systems of construable signs… not a power. Opts for a “semiotic concept of culture” instead 4.” (Geertz calls this “extreme subjectivism married to extreme formalism” sets up the dichotomy between describing reality versus “merely clever simulations.2.1. or process can be causally attributed.1. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  3. To equate know how to perform a cultural act with being part of the culture is taking thin description for thick and committing a “cognitivist fallacy” 220.127.116.11.2. institutions.18.104.22.168.2.3.5. Verstehen too “bookish” 4. behaviors.4.2.1. Instead of “verification”.2.2. Isolate elements 5. If describing culture is just writing out rules so that one can “pass as a native.4. Can‟t be analyzed by formal methods or logic 3.1.2. Culture as symbolic system 5. and second and third order ones to boot.2.” “something made. This understanding exposes cultures‟ “normalness without reducing their particularity” 4.” “fictions.3. Geertz proposed that culture is public: meaning can only be construed in a social context. February 15.2. not by arranging abstracted entities into unified patterns” 5.3.” created and not “natural” (naturally & phenomenologically observable) 4. Against divorcing it from reality and making it “vacant” . something to which social events. Cultural descriptions should describe what‟s happening to people of a different culture in the way they describe what happens to them (all reflexive back to the native” 4.1. Extending the semiotic approach 5. “Not social reality but scholarly artifice” 4. Line between culture as „a natural fact” versus “a theoretical entity” is often blurred 4. logically equivalent but substantively different” from the experience of the native 3.1.1. Characterizing the whole system generally—theoretically (ideologically arranged?) 5.4.2. Geertz criticizes anthropologists who try to makes it a scientific endeavor as “excessive:” he‟s not seeking to mimic a native or become one through formalized rules 4. Geertz prefers “appraisal” 5.POLS 7040 Wednesday.1. Link to Weber‟s causal adequacy and not validity 5. it is a context. “Anthropological writings are themselves interpretations.1.1. in which one understands what one is doing 3. Thin description is counterproductive to “an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction” 4.1.2.
2. Enlightenment view of man 3.POLS 7040 Wednesday. The need for theory to stay “close to the ground” 7.2. a perfectly formalized. Structural explanations does not equal “scientific” analysis 1. Cultural theory is not predictive: clinical inference does not apply 7. “Moving from local truths to general visions” has been “responsible for undermining the effort” as its critics have been 6.4. “Elegance” as general scientific ideal 2.1.2. Contrast with social sciences: departures from ideal 2. Microcosmic model 6. Inscribing social discourse to turn it from sagen to aus-sage 5.4. Praises concreteness 6. Social sciences consist of “substituting complex pictures for simple ones while striving somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple ones” 22.214.171.124. Elimination of differences—illusion 4.1. February 15.4.1. Interpretive of the flow of social discourse I order to rescue the “said” and fix it 6. rationalized confection cannot 5.2. “The aim is to draw large conclusions from small. Attempts to locate “man amid the body of his customs” 4. “A good interpretation… takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. Still in contemporary anthropological thought 3.1.1. 27) 7. Summary: theory purified of material complexities is to “pretend a science that does not exist and imagine reality that cannot be found” 6.2. according to Geertz.4.1. Applied to political science? 6.3. The attempt to be “clear and simple” in reconstructing an intelligible account of man is expressed through scientific thinking about culture 3. Beyond sociological aestheticism. Recommends interpretation event to positivisms 8.2. What‟s at the center? .2. Symbols using humans? 8. “Layers” that can be peeled back to a irreducible self 4. “Has much less acceptable implications” 3.2. Two characteristics of cultural interpretation that makes theorizing difficult 7. “The locus of study is not the object of study” 126.96.36.199.1.4. focusing on realities Chapter 2: The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man 1.1. Laws—capital ones 188.8.131.52. but very densely textured facts” 8. Ethnography description 6.2.” which. Natural experiment model 7.2. Problem of falsifiability in the social science (p.2. Two models of criticism 6. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  5.3.
Actual actions is not necessary.1. Scientific theory is about cover laws—yet what defines man is its variability 184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.1. Weber: “if and insofar as the agent or agents associate a subjective sense with it” 1. Wittgenstein‟s account of language—linguistic philosophy approach to social science (application of a rule) 1. Social 8.1. holistic) 8.2.3. Sinnhaft: traditional versus “purely reactive” 18.104.22.168. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  5. 9. sociological.1. Further: “action with a sense is symbolic” 1. AKA symbolic things that impose meaning upon experience 8.1.2. outside-the-skin control mechanisms… for ordering his behavior” 8.3. More problems with actual men as “reflections. Meaningful behavior 1.2.4. and cultural factors in which all these can be treated as variable in one.22.214.171.124. 6. Problems: linguistic? Cultural? Socioeconomic? 1. Investigation of regularities . “Man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extragenetic. Subjectively intended: motive and reason 1.1. because meaning is private and the idea is all that matters 1.POLS 7040 Wednesday. psychological.2.2.2. “Culture is best seen not as complexes od concrete behaviors… but as a set of control mechanisms… for governing of behavior” 8. coherent system of analysis (system of man—humanistic. Geertz sees no opposition between generalized. Public 8. approximations” Against Man as metaphysical entity 9. Meaning behavior as symbolic.2. 7. abstract understanding in terms of theories versus circumstantial understanding 9.2. Fear of historicism and the slippery slope of cultural relativism 8. it is to be a particular kind of man” 9.2. “To be human here is thus not to be Everyman.2. “it is very much more difficult to state this relationship (between man and its institutions) in unequivocal form” The problem of “bloodless universals” 8.1. Semantically stable? 2. selections from The Idea of a Social Science 1. distortions.2.2. 4.2.3. 8. “Halfway house between the 18th and 20th centuries” of part outward expression of “inward motions” and part emanations of those motions themselves All three approaches of consensus gentium fail Genuine danger of relativism: “It can be warded off only by facing directly and fully the diversities of human culture” While it is not that that to view institutions somewhat scientifically. Argues for a synthetic conception of the biological.2. February 15.2. Urges “descend into detail” in social sciences Peter Winch.1.2. Man as unfinished creatures 8.1.
This makes it verifiable 2.2. Social science.2. which “can only be grasped in a generalization” 2.2. Winch: Weber is wrong in that he is incorrect about the process of verification in sociological interpretations 5. But uniformity “presupposes judgments of identity. February 126.96.36.199. Understanding social institutions 188.8.131.52. Verstehen and causal explanation 5. Secondary categories 3.” which makes the whole enterprise relative 2. Why? 184.108.40.206.1. Enlightenment man.1.2. cannot be observational and experimental 5.1. derivatives 220.127.116.11.2. Mill: institution as embodiment of uniformity.1. formal 4. in that they have social significance. Individual scientific investigator 2.1. “In a physical science. in tow situations.3. the same thing has happen… must be understood in relation to the rules governing sociological investigation. Example of liquidity in economics 3.1.g.1.1.1. “The concepts and criteria according to which the sociologist judges that.18.104.22.168.1.1.1. recurring elements: “what remains when the changeless features are left out of account” 4. rational. Verstehen requires philosophy 5.1. E.1.1.2. Residues vs. Residues: constant. the relevant rules are those governing the procedure of investigators in the science in question” 2.2.2. Must have “quasi-intellectual” and intellectual content 4. His relation to the phenomena which he investigates 2.2.POLS 7040 Wednesday.1.1. Derivations: variables: “refers to a fact about such kinds of conduct which was discovered empirically… the main occupants of this category are the theories in terms of which people try to explain why behave as they do 4. His relation to his fellow scientists 2. His relationships actually constitutes meaning of his findings 2.1. It is supposed to provide recurring features in our observation of human societies. Is this true for social sciences? 3. “Said” of social performance: the actual performance can never be reduced to the ability to make statistical predictions .2.2.2. “Relation between idea and context is an internal one” 4. Social institutions cannot be simply observed as a natural category 3. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  22.214.171.124. which will be a suitable subject for scientific generalization 4.1.” 3. Two functions of division: 126.96.36.199. “Understanding of a human society is closely connect with the activities of the philosopher” 4.
3.2.3. Predictive powers: cannot by disproven by future experience 2.2. “It is impossible to keep a discussion of the rationality of Black Magic or astrology within the bounds of concepts peculiar to them. Main question: how to make intelligible in our terms institutions belonging to a primitive culture. February 15. Changing “stock descriptions” of human actions: “The changes in human action are thus intimately linked to the thread of rational criticism in human history.3. What about internal stability? 2.4.5. and Magic among the Azande 2.3.1. “If social relations between men exist only in and through their idea. Problems with thunder example? 6.3. since the relations between ideas are internal relations. not relativist 2.3. then. Context: contingency of environmental factors 2.3. whose standards of rationality and intelligibility are apparently quite at odds with our own? 2.5.3.” 188.8.131.52. It is difficult to refute by experience 2.” 6. Oracles. Rationality: pushing concepts to logical conclusions? 2.POLS 7040 Wednesday.2. “What criteria have we for saying that something does. Reaffirms role of philosophical investigation in social sciences—idea of social science is invalid? Peter Winch.4.3. Descriptions: must be intelligible as socially recognizable—specific times and places 3.1. Rationality approach.1.1.” . them have an essential reference to something outside themselves” 184.108.40.206.2.3. Issues with Evans-Pritchard‟s Witchcraft.1.3.3. Refute positivist criticism of his philosophical approach 3. Against Durkheim 2. “Understanding a Primitive Society” 1. Semantic stability (p. Can‟t get ahead of “presuppositions” 3. Agrees with logical versus scientific binary. “Parasitic” is irrational 2.3. Rationalist approach requires prior knowledge.2.3. 311) 2.3. social relations must be a specie of internal relations too.1.3. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  6. End up in tautology 220.127.116.11. Philosophic argument that attempts to show that Evans-Pritchard‟s approach is sound 3.3.1. Kinds of new ideas 6. make sense? A partial answer is that a set of beliefs and practices cannot make sense insofar as they involve contradictions. but scientific is not in accordance with “objective reality.” just some reality 2.1. the idea that science and scientific Western culture be the ultimate judge 2. Internality of social relations 6. rejection of Evans-Prichard‟s scientific criteria thesis.1. Must recognize its own internal contradictions 2. or does not.1.
Respond: political scientists do not study the nation-state—they study in the nation-state. Agree or disagree? 7. That is. Problems: but whose concept of rationality? 3.2. must clarify what the agent‟s criterion and intention was and why he used that reason—all this must be rational to those who invoke it 3. Suggestions for how to overcome the difficulty of intelligibility in looking at primitive cultures. Grammar of these descriptions 3.2. Winch‟s hermeneutical approach leads him to suggest that very idea of a social science impossible.2. Intelligibility: “must somehow bring S‟s conception of intelligibility (b) into intelligible relation with our own conception of intelligibility (a).1. What do we need to interpret in political science that Winch and Geertz do not address? 6.” 3. 2012 Cross-Cultural Interpretation  3.2. . Positivist criticism: observer. We are not seeking a state in which things will appear to us just as they do to members of S.1.1. but “to say of a society that it has a language is also to say that it has a concept of rationality” (Again: linguistics) 4.1. having a certain relation to our old one and perhaps requiring a considerable realignment of our categories.1.3.1. what are the implications of his theory of thick description for comparative politics? 2.1.2. i. Do Geertz‟s units of ethnographic analysis apply to political science? Can the latter field make use of the idea of thick description but strive for further abstraction because of the existence if institutional ideal-types? 5.2. What is a “moral” concern QUESTIONS 1.3.POLS 7040 Wednesday.1. What prevents the philosopher-anthropologist‟s requirements of thick description from completely sliding backward into cultural relativism? 3. scientists. What is the place of cover laws of the kind Hemple strives for in Geertz? What will be the results of Geertz‟s holding back abstraction in theory in political science? While Geertz writes about social sciences generally. February 15. “whose standards of rationality and intelligibility are apparently quite at odds with our own” 4.e. Discusses ethical relativism 4.1. 4. Not just a concept in a language. we have to create a new unity for the concept of intelligibility.1. Parse the role of linguistics in both Geertz and Winch‟s philosophies. In context of the rationality of the primitive man 3. and perhaps such a state is unattainable anyway.2. But we are seeking a way of looking at things which goes beyond our previous way in that it has in some way taken account of and incorporated the other way that members of S have of looking at things. What is Winch‟s account of the factors that influence the thoughts the cultural agent? What categories of causal influences does he give for meaningful actions? 8.