Friday, May 4, 2012

Clifford Geertz: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture – Summary, Review and analysis

Culture is the center of Clifford Geertz's discussion in "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture". Following Max Webber, Geertz views people as being entangled in webs of meaning that are of their own making. Geertz refutes previous anthropological perspectives which viewed culture as a vast array of values, techniques, tradition and so for the in favor of a more narrow definition of the term "culture".

In "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" Geertz views culture in semiotic terms, a sort of public act in which people express themselves using various signs and symbols which have pre-ascribed cultural meaning. Culture for Geertz is far from an abstract psychological construct. On the contrary, culture for Geertz is embodied in the person who acts out of and in a certain context, and culture is revealed in this person's actions and his interpretation of their meaning. Culture is in this sense concrete and public, and not something which exists in people's individual minds.

Following his perception of culture Geertz holds that the ethnographer's task is in fact the same of someone who belongs to a certain culture – to have a deep and rooted understanding of in the semiotics – symbols and meanings – of the culture. This is the basis for Geertz's notion of "thick description". Thick description is defined for Geertz as a methodological imperative which takes into account the structure and nature of a culture's semiotic formations. Geertz distinguished "thick description' from "thin description" which is a factual account of a culture that does not include hermeneutic interpretation which is required by the thick description. In "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" Geertz uses the example of a wink which can be seen as just a contraction of the eyelids or as sign which bears cultural as well as contextual meanings.

other summaries of articles by Clifford Geertz:

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