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  • Welcome to the Macat Multimedia Series. A Macat Analysis of Clifford Geertz’s The

  • Interpretation of Cultures.

  • Culture is the common interpretation of public signs and symbols.

  • In 1973, Clifford Geertz published a collection of essays called The Interpretation of Culture

  • to support this thesis. In it, he outlined a methodology for understanding the nature

  • of cultures.

  • Geertz was an early advocate of the school of symbolic anthropology, conducting his research

  • in Indonesia and then Morocco. This school of thought argued that culture is not explicable

  • through power, or through systematic frameworks such as the law.

  • Instead, culture issemiotic’, meaning it is understandable in terms of symbols,

  • and people’s interactions with them.

  • In The Interpretation of Culture, Geertz adapted Gilbert Ryle’s earlier concept of a ‘Thick

  • Description’. This idea held that the understanding of certain events or symbols depends on their

  • context.

  • For Geertz, a thick description of an event or symbol gives far more than a factual summary.

  • Importantly, it also takes into account the context which gives the event or symbol meaning.

  • To understand Geertz’s ideas better, let’s consider one of his own examples. Picture

  • someone winking.

  • A ‘Thin Descriptionof this event would simply be a factual account of what occurs.

  • It would describe the contraction of muscles around one eye, which causes it to shut.

  • In contrast, a ‘Thick Descriptionlooks beyond this, taking into account the context

  • which gives the wink its cultural meaning.

  • Let’s look at two different contexts a wink can occur in. Meet Sarah and Toby.

  • Sarah is being interviewed for a job by Toby. At the end they shake hands, and Toby smiles

  • and winks at Sarah. From the context, we can assume that Toby was impressed with the interview,

  • and wanted to let Sarah know this. Consequently, Sarah feels hopeful that she will get the

  • job.

  • Now instead, let’s say Toby and Sarah are in a bar, and Sarah offers to buy Toby a drink.

  • Toby accepts, and Sarah passes him the drink, winking as she does so. Now that the context

  • is different, so is the meaning of the wink. It is now flirtatious, and a suggestion of

  • interest from Sarah to Toby.

  • Even though the gesture was the same, placed in these two different contexts it has an

  • entirely different meaning. Only through understanding the meanings people apply to winking can we

  • judge the intention in each scenario.

  • Clifford Geertz was a highly influential American cultural anthropologist, and his ideas continue

  • to resonate in modern academic thought.

  • A more detailed examination of these ideas can be found in the Macat Analysis.

Welcome to the Macat Multimedia Series. A Macat Analysis of Clifford Geertz’s The

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An Introduction to Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures - A Macat Anthropology Analysis

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    Aming Chiang posted on 2016/11/09
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