Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thoughts on "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" by Clifford Geertz

Clifford Geertz's "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is one of the most insightful and important programmatic articles in anthropology as well as sociology and cultural studies. The analysis of the Balinese cockfight, as interesting as it is, serves only to demonstrate the principle of Geertz's approach which is that cultural products, in this case a form of ritual, can serve as texts which can be read a deciphered. The basic assumption here is that cultures and societies form an image of themselves in their conducts, habits, cultural practices and customs. Geertz's approach is in a sense a functionalistic one in arguing that social structures, beliefs, tensions, hopes, fears and many more are invested and manifested in such cultural forms, which are the manner in which a culture relates itself to itself.

One of the direct implications of Geertz's "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is in fact was Pierre Bourdieu says argues for in "High Fashion and High Culture", namely that what is considered to be "unworthy" subjects can serve high scientific purpose if researched with the right attitude.

When reading "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" it is highly tempting to compare the Balinese cockfight with western sports. Just think about how people oppose each other over local or high school leagues only to unite when the city's team plays another city and then unite with the former opponents when it comes to international matches.

But it's not only sports. Geertz's (and Bourdieu's) notion of cultural texts can be applied to just about anything. Commercials for instance are very insightful when read as cultural products. Commercials are highly adapted to "speak" to a certain culture, to its needs, beliefs, fears, whishes and so on and so on. In that sense, a commercial as somewhat of a mirror image of culture, a reflection of it which can prove to be most insightful when not thinking "oh! I want that…" but rather considering it as a subject for investigation.

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