Geertz Intellectual Perspective

2336 Words10 Pages
Introduction 1. Profile and Intellectual Influences Clifford Geertz, North American cultural anthropologist who focused on the interpretation of symbols which he believed give meaning and order to people’s lives. He was considered a founder of interpretive, or symbolic, anthropology. (Nytimes) He studied under Talcott Parsons in Harvard, and did the first of a half dozen fieldwork stints in Indonesia, spending three years in the central Javanese village of Pare. Peter Winch was a British philosopher and a leading exponent of Wittgenstein’s philosophy that to imagine a language is to imagine a way of living. Language according to Wittgenstein is not a tool that we employ, but the element in which we live our lives, one which makes possible…show more content…
Although Geertz admitted the myriad of theoretical conceptions of culture, he settled down on culture as a semiotic concept, and borrowing from Max Weber, he took culture to be webs of significance suspending man who has spun them himself. Culture is therefore present in the form of symbols that is to be “read” and interpreted by the anthropologist. This is possible for Geertz since to him culture is “public” and is not something located in the “minds and hearts” of people. Culture becomes public because it is articulated through behaviour and it is through reading this behaviour, or “symbolic action,” we can find…show more content…
Thus he focused more on what an anthropologist ought to do when interpreting culture. He first defines the anthropologist’s task to doing ethnography and claims that it is not about methods, skills and procedures but more importantly it is an “intellectual” effort which he called “thick description,” a term he borrowed from Gilbert Ryle. This is the key term that makes Geertz’s cultural interpretation a classic in anthropology. Thick description differs from “thin description” in that the latter involves mere description of the action in a vacuum. Vacuum here refers to the absence of context in which an action happens. On the contrary, thick description involves constructing the meaning of an action and also sorting out the “stratified hierarchy of meaning structures” in terms of which actions or behaviour are “produced, perceived, and interpreted.” This ethnographic description is therefore not mere description but involves understanding as well as interpreting observed culture. Doing ethnography this way therefore is “reading” or “construct[ing] a reading of” manuscript which is culture. And while doing so, the ethnographer has to ask what an action or behaviour means and not what it is. This is because actions are symbolic and the meaning is usually hidden. Thus, while compiling their descriptions, the anthropologists are in fact constructing the culture form their own interpretations and not

More about Geertz Intellectual Perspective

Open Document