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The Interpretation Of Cultures Selected Essays Geertz


Preface to the 2000 Edition


Chapter 1/ Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture

Chapter 2/ The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man

Chapter 3/ The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind

Chapter 4/ Religion As a Cultural System

Chapter 5/ Ethos, World View, and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols

Chapter 6/ Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example

Chapter 7/ "Internal Conversion" in Contemporary Bali

Chapter 8/ Ideology As a Cultural System

Chapter 9/ After the Revolution: The Fate of Nationalism in the New States

Chapter 10/ The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States

Chapter 11/ The Politics of Meaning

Chapter 12/ Politics Past, Politics Present: Some Notes on the Uses of Anthropology in Understanding the New States

Chapter 13/ The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Lévi-Strauss

Chapter 14/ Person, Time, and Conduct in Bali

Chapter 15/ Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight



In The Interpretation of Cultures Geertz aims at a definition of culture and what it means to the practice of a cultural anthropologist. He explains that “culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed.” Culture, in other words, does not determine human behavior. It cannot be reduced to laws, systematic rules, or paradigms of behavior, whether conscious or unconscious. Culture, on the contrary, “is a context, something within which [social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes] can be intelligibly—that is, thickly—described.” It gives meaning to individual acts, a yardstick against which they can be interpreted and judged. Therefore, the practice of cultural anthropology, the analysis of culture, is “not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

Geertz takes exception to those who would locate culture in the minds and hearts of men. While thinking takes place in the head and involves the whole of human psychology, Geertz nevertheless maintains that “human thought is consummately social: social in its origins, social in its functions, social in its forms, social in its applications.” Human thinking, as a subjective phenomenon, cannot be observed, but its forms and functions within the social arena can be minutely observed. Cultural anthropology, as Geertz practices it, begins inductively with the observation and description of social patterns.

Yet, as Geertz recognized, observation and description, in and of themselves, are insufficient to describe culture. As he points out, culture cannot be reduced to specific behavior patterns—customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters. On the contrary, culture is best seen as a set of rules that serve to govern behavior. To use a linguistic analogy, cultural patterns provide the grammar,...

(The entire section is 779 words.)