Clifford Geertz - Interpretive Anthropology

2636 Words Dec 24th, 2009 11 Pages
Social Anthropology Essay.

How would you summarize Clifford Geertz’s contribution to the field of anthropology?

Clifford Geertz

I have chosen this essay on Geertz, as the information I received in class I found interesting and wanted to elaborate on the knowledge I already had. In this essay, I will be discussing Geertz’s contributions to anthropology, and what I have interpreted these contributions as myself. When looking at Geertz’s ideas and theories in Anthropology, some of these ideas and theories will include his theories on the web of relations and symbolism. Geertz also took the idea of theory and came up with new ideas to develop it further. What Geertz was trying to do by looking at symbolism was trying to break down the
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The term ‘semiotic’ refers to the idea of culture and the understanding of it, through the decoding of signs and symbols.

“Believing with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expressions on their surface enigmatical. (Geertz 1973p. 5).”

This concept of culture being semiotic, as Geertz believed, I interpret it as he maintained that symbolism brought meaning and order to people’s lives. Geertz draws on other disciplined sciences like history, philosophy, psychology and literary criticism in order to assess and decode the meanings behind things such as art, institutions, values and beliefs and other symbols as he believes them to be. The interpreting of these signs and symbols for the ethnographer must be based on ‘thick description’ or else all the possible meanings will not be clear. We can also understand Geertz’s idea behind culture more within this as he believes that if the ethnographers can have a better understanding using thick description for these symbols, then different cultures will have an increased understanding of each other.
Geertz was interested in making a distinction between thin and thick description.
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