Saturday, May 5, 2012

Clifford Geertz – "From the Native's Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding" - summary, 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". Geertz views culture as embodies in public signs and symbols, as a web weaved by man himself which makes the world understandable. 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.

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.

According to Geertz the anthropologist's task in neither objective nor subjective, it is both. He demonstrates this point by opposing "experience-near", which is the spontaneous and unaware experience, 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.

Geertz demonstrates his point through a comperative discussion of how deferent cultures perceive the concept of "person". Geertz compare the perceptions of "person" in Bali, Java and Morocco which are rather different from the western perception of the self as unique, consistent and whole.
In Java, for example, Geertz finds that the notion of person is organized through two sets of contradictions: inside/outside and refined/vulgar. The inside/outside distinction refers to two distinct realms: personal and private emotions and external behavior. The refined/vulgar distinction refer to a moral aspect in which the person assumes his correct position in the word.

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").
In Morocco the main principle according to Geertz is that of "nisba" which denotes or interpolates the person's always relative social identity.    

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