Summarising Clifford Geertz

Topics: Anthropology, Sociology, Culture Pages: 3 (1825 words) Published: April 26, 2015
Summarising Clifford Geertz’
‘Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture’ Drishta Gopala, 3351, B.Sc.(H) Anthropology- II Year

Geertz starts his article discussing the radical nature of the concept of ‘Culture’, one around which the entire field of Anthropology has arisen. He compares it to all other powerful scientific concepts and ideas that rose to fame and power, that due to resolving multiple fundamental problems, are thought to be the ultimate solution to all problems and are used thus in every and all contexts, and purposes, notwithstanding its real potential lying elsewhere. Such an over-estimation of a concept, he says only manages to undermine its real value as it leads to distractions and an entanglement in the unnecessary. Such an over-evaluation of potential, he feels, has occurred with the concept of Culture in defining it, as E.B. Tylor has done, as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capability and habit acquired by man as a member of society”, thus stretching the field of study far too wide, hence making it more obscure instead of defining its boundaries. Instead, he suggests a more limited though defined and coherent view of culture as that which lends meaning to all social expression, which to an outsider, on the surface, may appear unfathomable. He derives from Weber saying that if man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, he takes culture to be those webs. Hence the analysis of culture is not “an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.” Hence, an analysis of culture would entail trying to understand or interpret what socially understood meaning is held in certain actions performed by a people and through stitching these meanings together understand the entire structure of meanings that forms the context for the behaviour of the society. To better understand any field, he says, one must...
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