Saturday, May 5, 2012

Clifford Geertz - Person Time and Conduct in Bali - summary

Clifford Geertz views culture as a public performance of signs and symbolic acts (see: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture). In "Person Time and Conduct in Bali" (in "Interpretation of Culture") geertz discusses the importance of recognizing the nature of human thought and perception as an employed social mechanism for cultural analysis. He demonstrates this notion and his idea of "thick description" in the case of the Balinese people and the manner in which they conceive and interpret the sense of being a person, time and subsequent behaviour.

In Geertz's view cultural patterns are the means through which people attribute meaning and structure various events in their lives. Therefore the study of culture according to Geertz is the study of the mechanism employed by individuals and groups in order to orient themselves in the world. These mechanisms serve as private solutions to the universal existential problems of cognition and orientation by answering questions like who we are, where do we come from, the relation between us and other people and between us and nature.   
According to Geertz one of the focal points of the need for the orientation is the private individual and his definition as a social unit. Social structures organize and construct personal identity and Geertz uses the example of Bali and the Balinese people to show hoe their complex system of names and social denotations of individuals function to construct such as personal identity through an established perception of time and existence.

According to Geertz, the Balinese name system seeks to obscure temporal differences between people and attempts at constructing them as sharing the same time, thus promoting a relative anonymousation of the personality. Geertz shows how personal perceptions in Bali are linked to perceptions of time, which for the Balinese is not linear as it is in the West but rather fragmented with specific meanings assigned to specific days. Time in Bali is simultaneous and all people are each other's contemporary.  

Finally, perceptions of the self and time are linked according to Geertz to conduct and behavior. Geertz discusses the Balinese term of "lek", misstraslated as "shame", which refers to one's failure to play out is role in social performance. Geertz's main thesis in "Person Time and Conduct in Bali" is that there exists interdependence between perceptions of the person, time and conduct which all stem from human experience and the attempt to organize social life. The next step for Geertz is try to trace the characteristics of these social experiences such as integration, change and conflict.

other summaries of articles by Clifford Geertz:
Clifford Geertz: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture – Summary, Review and analysis 
Clifford Geertz –"From the Native's Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding"
Clifford Geertz: "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

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