The Interpretation of Cultures
Book: The Interpretation of Cultures
Written by: Clifford Geertz
Published by: Basic Books (1973)
The Interpretation of Cultures, a collection of essays by Clifford Geertz is considered a treatise in cultural theory in which the author explains the role of culture in social life. Geertz theorizes his concept of ‘thick description – the detailed, interpretative analysis of human behaviors, moods, and symbols to study culture. The author proposes that the majority of the essays are empirical studies, rather than theoretical disquisitions. The book redefines the contemporary anthropological approach to the studying of culture. It offers a new conceptualization of culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life (p.89).” Geertz takes “culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning (p.5).” Drawing from philosophy, literary theory, sociology and anthropology, Geertz examines the two specific cultural systems- religion and ideology. Along with general essays, Geertz derives his theoretical concepts from his fieldwork in Java, Bali and Morocco, where he views religion as a cultural system (giving examples from Balinese and Javanese religious traditions) and their role in social integration and social change, the politics of meaning, symbols of nationalism, and history of new states. Geertz puts forward his views that anthropologists/ethnographers should read meanings as native people do within their social-cultural context while studying the meanings of symbols and actions.
“The essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said. (p.30)”The Interpretation of Cultures