The Info List - Clifford Geertz

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University of Chicago Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey

Doctoral advisor Talcott Parsons

Doctoral students George E. Marcus, Lawrence Rosen, Sherry Ortner, Paul Rabinow

Influences Talcott Parsons, Gilbert Ryle, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Max Weber, Paul Ricoeur, Alfred Schütz

Influenced Stephen Greenblatt, Quentin Skinner

Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton, NJ


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Clifford James Geertz (/ɡɜːrts/ ( listen); August 23, 1926 – October 30, 2006) was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology, and who was considered "for three decades...the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States."[1] He served until his death as professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.


1 Early life 2 Teaching 3 Later life 4 Main ideas and contributions 5 Philosophical influences 6 Legacy 7 Interlocutors 8 Major publications

8.1 Chronological list of works by Clifford Geertz

9 Honors 10 See also 11 References 12 Further reading 13 External links

Early life[edit] Geertz was born in San Francisco
San Francisco
on August 23, 1926. After service in the US Navy
US Navy
in World War II
World War II
(1943–45), Geertz received his B.A. in philosophy from Antioch College
Antioch College
in 1950. After graduating from Antioch he attended Harvard University
Harvard University
from which he graduated in 1956, as a student in the Department of Social Relations. This interdisciplinary program was led by Talcott Parsons, and Geertz worked with both Parsons and Clyde Kluckhohn. Geertz was trained as an anthropologist, and conducted his first long-term fieldwork, together with his wife, Hildred, in Java, which was funded by the Ford Foundation and MIT. He studied the religious life of a small, upcountry town for two-and-a-half years, living with a railroad laborer's family.[2] After finishing his thesis, Geertz returned to Bali
and Sumatra.[3] He earned his Ph.D. in 1956 with a dissertation entitled Religion in Modjokuto: A Study of Ritual Belief In A Complex Society.[4] Teaching[edit] He taught or held fellowships at a number of schools before joining the faculty of the anthropology department at the University of Chicago in 1960. In this period Geertz expanded his focus on Indonesia to include both Java
and Bali
and produced three books, including Religion of Java
(1960), Agricultural Involution (1963), and Peddlers and Princes (also 1963). In the mid-1960s, he shifted course and began a new research project in Morocco
that resulted in several publications, including Islam Observed (1968), which compared Indonesia
and Morocco. In 1970, Geertz left Chicago to become professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton, New Jersey
from 1970 to 2000, then as emeritus professor. In 1973, he published The Interpretation of Cultures, which collected essays Geertz had published throughout the 1960s. That became Geertz's best-known book and established him not just as an Indonesianist but also as an anthropological theorist. In 1974, he edited the anthology Myth, Symbol, Culture
that contained papers by many important anthropologists on symbolic anthropology. Geertz produced ethnographic pieces in this period, such as Kinship
in Bali
(1975), Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society
(1978, written collaboratively with Hildred Geertz and Lawrence Rosen) and Negara (1981). Later life[edit] From the 1980s to his death, Geertz wrote more theoretical and essayistic pieces, including book reviews for the New York Review of Books. As a result, most of his books of the period are collections of essays, including Local Knowledge (1983), Available Light (2000) and Life Among The Anthros (published posthumously in 2010). He also produced the autobiographical After The Fact (1995) and Works and Lives (1988), a series of short essays on the stylistics of ethnography. Geertz received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from some fifteen colleges and universities, including Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the University of Cambridge. He was married first to the anthropologist Hildred Geertz. After their divorce, he married Karen Blu, also an anthropologist. Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz
died of complications following heart surgery on October 30, 2006.[5] Geertz conducted extensive ethnographical research in Southeast Asia and North Africa. This fieldwork was the basis of Geertz's famous analysis of the Balinese cockfight among others. He was the director of the multidisciplinary project Committee for the Comparative Studies of New Nations while he held a position in Chicago in the 1960s. He conducted fieldwork in Morocco
as part of this project on "bazaars, mosques, olive growing and oral poetry".[3] The ethnographic data for the famous essay on thick description was collected here. He contributed to social and cultural theory and is still influential in turning anthropology toward a concern with the frames of meaning within which various peoples live their lives. He reflected on the basic core notions of anthropology, such as culture and ethnography. At the time of his death, Geertz was working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world. Main ideas and contributions[edit] At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a champion of symbolic anthropology, a framework which gives prime attention to the role of symbols in constructing public meaning. In his seminal work The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Geertz outlined 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."[6] He was one of the earliest scholars to see that the insights provided by common language, philosophy and literary analysis could have major explanatory force in the social sciences.[7] Geertz aimed to provide the social sciences with an understanding and appreciation of “thick description.” Geertz applied thick description to anthropological studies (specifically his own 'interpretive anthropology'), urging anthropologists to consider the limitations placed upon them by their own cultural cosmologies when attempting to offer insight into the cultures of other people.[8] He produced theory that had implications for other social sciences; for example, Geertz asserted that culture was essentially semiotic in nature, and this theory has implications for comparative political sciences.[7] Max Weber
Max Weber
and his interpretative social science are strongly present in Geertz’s work. Geertz himself argues for a “semiotic” concept of culture: “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun," he states, “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 interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expression on their surface enigmatical.”[7] Geertz argues that to interpret a culture’s web of symbols, scholars must first isolate its elements, specifying the internal relationships among those elements and characterize the whole system in some general way according to the core symbols around which it is organized, the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression, or the ideological principles upon which it is based. It was his view that culture is public, because “meaning is,” and systems of meanings are what produce culture, because they are the collective property of a particular people.[7] We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning, when, as Wittgenstein noted, “we cannot find our feet with them.”[7] Geertz wants society to appreciate that social actions are larger than themselves; they speak to larger issues, and vice versa, because “they are made to.”[7]

It is not against a body of uninterrupted data, radically thinned descriptions, that we must measure the cogency of our explications, but against the power of the scientific imagination to bring us into touch with the lives of strangers.”[7]

In seeking to converse with subjects in foreign cultures and gain access to their conceptual world, this is the goal of the semiotic approach to culture.[7] Cultural theory is not its own master; at the end of the day we must appreciate, that the generality “thick description” contrives to achieve, grows out of the delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstraction.[7] The essential task of theory-building here is not to codify abstract regularities, but to make thick description possible; not to generalize across cases, but to generalize within them.[7]

Cockfight in Bali

His often-cited essay "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is the classic example of thick description, a concept adopted from the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Thick description is an anthropological method of explaining with as much detail as possible the reason behind human actions.[9] Many human actions can mean many different things, and Geertz insisted that the anthropologist needs to be aware of this. The work proved influential amongst historians, many of whom tried to use these ideas about the 'meaning' of cultural practice in the study of customs and traditions of the past. During Geertz's long career he worked through a variety of theoretical phases and schools of thought. In his essay "Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols," published in his 1973 book The Interpretation of Cultures, Geertz wrote that "The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological needs...",[10] a statement that reflects an early leaning toward functionalism.[who?] Philosophical influences[edit] Geertz used the concept of thick description from Gilbert Ryle, which comes from ordinary language philosophy. He also used the concept of family resemblances into anthropology from the post-analytic philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He also introduced Alfred Schütz's "...distinctions among predecessors, consociates, contemporaries and successors, distinctions that have become commonplace in anthropology"[11] in his wake. Geertz stressed how the links between "consociate-contemporary-predecessor-successor" derive from the "Umwelt - Mitwelt - Vorwelt - Folgewelt" formulation [12] of Schütz's phenomenology. Legacy[edit] Geertz's research and ideas had a strong influence on 20th century academia, including modern anthropology and communication studies, and for geographers, ecologists, political scientists, scholars of religion, historians, and other humanists.[13] University of Miami
University of Miami
Professor Daniel Pals wrote of Geertz in 1996, "His critics are few; his admirers legion."[14] Talal Asad attacked the dualism in Geertzian theory: the theory does not provide a bridge between external symbols and internal dispositions. He also pointed out the need for a more nuanced approach toward the historical background of certain concepts.[15] Criticizing Geertz's theory of religion in general he pointed out a gap between 'cultural system' and 'social reality' when attempting to define the concept of religion in universal terms.[15] Asad criticized Geertz for ascribing an authorizing discourse around conversations of comparative religion that, Asad argues, doesn’t really exist. Furthermore, Asad criticized Geertz for operating according to a Euro-Centric view of religion that places import on signs and symbols that may or may not carry through in other non Judeo-Christian religious cultures.[16] Interlocutors[edit]

Stephen Greenblatt Robert Darnton Mark R. Woodward Talal Asad

Major publications[edit]

"Religion as a Cultural System". In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. Ed. Michael Banton. pp. 1–46. ASA Monographs, 3. London: Tavistock Publications. 1966 The Religion of Java
(1960), University Of Chicago Press 1976 paperback: ISBN 0-226-28510-3 Peddlers and Princes: Social Development and Economic Change in Two Indonesian Towns (1963), University Of Chicago Press 1968 paperback: ISBN 0-226-28514-6 Agricultural Involution: the process of ecological change in Indonesia (1964) Islam Observed, Religious Development in Morocco
and Indonesia
(1968), University Of Chicago Press 1971 paperback: ISBN 0-226-28511-1 The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Basic Books 2000 paperback: ISBN 0-465-09719-7 Kinship
in Bali
(1975) coauthor: Hildred Geertz, University Of Chicago Press 1978 paperback: ISBN 0-226-28516-2 Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali
(1980), Princeton University Press 2001 paperback: ISBN 0-691-00778-0 Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology
(1983), Basic Books 2000 paperback: ISBN 0-465-04162-0 "Anti-Anti-Relativism" (1984), American Anthropologist, vol. 86, no. 2, pp. 263–278. Works and Lives: The Anthropologist As Author (1988), Stanford University Press 1990 paperback: ISBN 0-8047-1747-8 After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist, Harvard University
Harvard University
Press 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-674-00872-3 Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics, Princeton University Press
Princeton University Press
2000 paperback: ISBN 0-691-08956-6 "An inconstant profession: The anthropological life in interesting times" (2002), Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 31, pp. 1–19 Viewable at hypergeertz.jku.at

Chronological list of works by Clifford Geertz[edit]

French Edition of Geertz' "Local Knowledge"

1957 Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example. American Anthropologist 59(1):32-54. 1959 Form and Variation in Balinese Village Structure. American Anthropologist 61:991-1012. 1959 The Javanese Village. In Local, Ethnic, and National Loyalties in Village Indonesia. Ed. G. William Skinner. pp. 34–41. New Haven: Southeast Asian Program, Yale University. 1960 Religion of Java. Glencoe: Free Press. 1961 The Rotating Credit Association: A "Middle Rung" in Development. Economic Development and Cultural Change 10:241-263. 1962 Studies in Peasant Life: Community and Society. In Biennial Review of Anthropology
1961. Ed. Bernard J. Siegal. pp. 1–41. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1962 The Growth of Culture
and the Evolution
of Mind. In Theories of the Mind. Ed. J. Scher. pp. 713–740. New York: Free Press. 1963 Agricultural Involution: The Process of Agricultural Change in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California
Press. 1963 Peddlers and Princes: Social Change and Economic Modernization in Two Indonesian Towns. Chicago: University of Chicago
University of Chicago
Press. 1963 (editor) Old Societies and New States. New York: Free Press. 1963 The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States. In Old Societies and New States. Ed. Clifford Geertz. pp. 105–157. Glencoe: Free Press. 1964 Ideology as a Cultural System. In Ideology and Discontent. Ed. David Apter. pp. 47–76. New York: Free Press. 1965 The Social History of an Indonesian Town. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1965 Modernization in a Muslim Society: The Indonesian Case, 201-211, in Robert O. Tilman (ed), Man, State, and Society
in Contemporary South East Asia. London: Pall Mall. 1966 Person, Time, and Conduct in Bali: An Essay in Cultural Analysis. Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Program, Cultural Report Series. New Haven: Yale University. 1966 Religion as a Cultural System. In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. Ed. Michael Banton. pp. 1–46. ASA Monographs, 3. London: Tavistock Publications. 1966 The Impact of the Concept of Culture
on the Concept of Man. In New Views of the Nature of Man. Ed. J. Platt. pp. 93–118. Chicago: University of Chicago
University of Chicago
Press. 1967 Politics Past, Politics Preset: Some Notes on the Contribution of Anthropology
to the Study of the New States. European Journal of Sociology 8(1):1-14. 1967 The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Encounter 48(4):25-32. 1967 Tihingan: A Balinese Village. In Villages in Indonesia. Ed. R. N. Koentjaraningrat. pp. 210–243. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 1967 Under the Mosquito Net. New York Review of Books, September 14. 1968 Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco
and Indonesia. Chicago: University of Chicago
University of Chicago
Press. 136 pp. 1968 Thinking as a Moral Act: Dimensions of Anthropological Fieldwork in the New States. Antioch Review 28(2):139-158. 1972 Religious Change and Social Order in Soeharto's Indonesia. Asia 27:62-84. 1972 The Wet and the Dry: Traditional Irrigation in Bali
and Morocco. Human Ecology 1:34-39. 1972 Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. Daedalus 101(1 Winter). 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic. 1973 Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. Clifford Geertz. pp 3–30. New York: Basic Books. 1976 From the Native's Point of View. In Meaning in Anthropology. Eds. Keith H. Basso and Henry A. Selby. pp. 221–237. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1977 Found in Translation: On the Social History of the Moral Imagination. Georgia Review 31(4 Winter):788-810. 1977 Curing, Sorcery, and Magic in a Javanese Town. In Culture, Disease, and Healing: Studies in Medical Anthropology. Ed. David Landy. pp. 146–153. New York: Macmillan Publishing. 1979 [with Hildred Geertz and Lawrence Rosen] Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society: Three Essays in Cultural Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See his own contribution on "Suq: The Bazaar Economy in Sefrou" (pp. 123–225). 1980 Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1983 Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. New York: Basic Books. 1983 Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. Clifford Geertz. pp. 121–146. New York: Basic Books. 1983 "From the Native's Point of View": On the Nature of Anthropological Knowledge. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. Clifford Geertz. pp. 55–70. New York: Basic Books. 1983 Notions of Primitive Thought: Dialogue with Clifford Geertz. In States of Mind. ed & comp Jonathan Miller. pp. 192–210. New York: Pantheon. 1984 Anti-Anti-Relativism. 1983 Distinguished Lecture. American Anthropologist 82:263-278. 1984 Culture
and Social Change: The Indonesian Case. Man 19:511-532. 1986 The Uses of Diversity. In Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 7. Ed. Sterling M. McMurrin. pp. 251–275. Cambridge and Salt Lake City: Cambridge University Press and University of Utah Press. 1988 Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

The four studies included in the book are:

"The World in a Text: How to Read Tristes Tropiques" (pp. 25–48). "Slide Show: Evans-Pritchard's African Transparencies" (pp. 49–72). "I-Witnessing: Malinowski's Children" (pp. 73–101). "Us/not-Us: Benedict's Travels" (pp. 102–128).

1989 Margaret Mead, 1901-1978. Biographical Memoirs 58:329-341. National Academy of Sciences. 1990 History and Anthropology. New Literary History 21(2 Winter):321-335. 1991 The Year of Living Culturally. New Republic, October 21, 30-36. 1992 "Local Knowledge" and Its Limits: Some Obiter Dicta. Yale Journal of Criticism 5(2):129-135. 1993 "Ethnic Conflict": Three Alternative Terms. Common Knowledge 2(3 Winter):54-65. 1994 Life on the Edge. [Review of Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen]. New York Review of Books
New York Review of Books
41(7 April ):3-4. 1995 After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist. [The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures]. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press. 1995 Culture
War. [Review essay on Sahlins, How "Natives" Think and Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook]. New York Review of Books 42(19 November 30):4-6. 2000 Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2010 Life Among the Anthros and Other Essays edited by Fred Inglis (Princeton University Press; 272 pages)


Association for Asian Studies (AAS), 1987 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies[17]

See also[edit]

Clifford Geertz's theory of religion Thick Description Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight List of important publications in anthropology


^ Geertz, Clifford, Shweder, R. A., & Good, B. (2005). Clifford Geertz by his colleagues. Chicago: University of Chicago
University of Chicago
Press. ^ Geertz, Clifford (2001). Available light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics. Princeton: Princeton University Press p. 8-9 ^ a b Geertz, Clifford (2001). Available light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics. Princeton: Princeton University Press p. 10 ^ Geertz, Clifford (1956). Religion in Modjokuto: a study of ritual and belief in a complex society. Harvard. OCLC 421067853.  ^ " Anthropologist Biographies - Geertz". Indiana.edu. 1926-08-23. Retrieved 2012-08-13.  ^ Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books, p. 89 ^ a b c d e f g h i j Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books ^ Geertz, Clifford (1973). Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture. New York: Basic Books. p. 5.  ^ Gilbert Ryle, "The Thinking of Thoughts: What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?" Archived 2014-12-21 at the Wayback Machine. Reprinted from 'University Lectures', no.18, 1968, by permission of the University of Saskatchewan. ^ Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. p. 140.  ^ Geertz, Shweder, Good, (2005) p. 68 ^ Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (London 1993) p. 367n ^ " Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz
1926 - 2006". Princeton, New Jersey: Institute for Advanced Study Press. 2006.  ^ Frankenberry, Nancy K.; Hans H. Penner (1999). "Clifford Geertz's Long-Lasting Moods, Motivations, and Metaphysical Conceptions". 79. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: The University of Chicago
University of Chicago
Press: 617–640. ISBN 0-13-158591-6. JSTOR 1206117.  ^ a b Asad, Talal (1983). Anthropological Concepts of Religion: Reflections on Geertz. Man (N.S.) 18:237-59. ^ Asad, Talal. "The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category." Genealogies of religion : discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam (1993).: 27-54. ^ Association for Asian Studies (AAS), 1987 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies; retrieved 2011-05-31

Geertz, C. (1963). Old societies and new States; the quest for modernity in Asia and Africa. [New York]: Free Press of Glencoe. Griffin, Em. (2012). A First Look At Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Further reading[edit] Main article: List of important publications in anthropology

Alexander, J.C. - Smith, P. - Norton, M. eds. (2011). Interpreting Clifford Geertz: Cultural Investigation in the Social Sciences. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Inglis, F. (2000). Clifford Geertz: Culture, Custom and Ethics. Cambridge. Polity Press Lloyd, Christopher (1993).The Structures of History. Blackwell, Oxford.

External links[edit]

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Clifford Geertz

Works by or about Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz
in libraries ( WorldCat
catalog) Interview of Clifford Geertz(video) Big Ideas: Clifford Geertz Clifford Geertz: A Life of Learning (Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 1999) A short biography of Geertz from Richard Wilk's website Clifford Geertz, Cultural Anthropologist, Is Dead at 80 by Andrew L. Yarrow published on November 1, 2006 in the New York Times Geertz author page and archive from The New York Review of Books Interview of Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz
by Alan Macfarlane 5th May 2004 (film). Linked to Frazer Lecture 2004 (sound only) Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropologies National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir The deepest scholar monograph on Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz

Authority control

Identities VIAF: 108430277 LCCN: n79131889 ISNI: 0000 0001 1479 7581 GND: 118965182 SELIBR: 188067 SUDOC: 032510780 BNF: cb11904498g (data) NDL: 00440678 NKC: jn20001227300 BNE: XX945