In “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture”, Geertz has addressed the theme of culture and has refuted the previously developed anthropological perspectives seeing culture as the synthesis of traditions, values, and techniques. The author has focused on the concept of ‘sick description’ arguing that the semiotic nature of culture has its implications to political and anthropologic studies. The following paper will critically summarize the class reading under consideration.
The key ideas expressed by the author draw the readers’ attention to the nature of human culture. Geertz supports Weber’s point of view that a human being can be seen as an animal dangled in the entanglement of meaning and significance invented on one’s own. He states that these webs are cultures created by the man. Therefore, he argues that cultural studies should involve an interpretative search of meaning rather than experimental research (Geertz 3).
The concept of “thick description” that Geertz often uses in the given reading can be described as a methodological imperative that is being shaped under the influence of semiotic developments in culture. Geertz has distinguished the notions of “thick description” from the notion of “thin description” by stating that it relates to the work of ethnographer who interprets the factual account of a culture that has occurred. “Thin description” is thus the exact cultural phenomenon that has taken place.
Reasoning with the help of “thick description” and “thin description” concepts, Geertz has come up with the conclusion that the very task of ethnography is producing “thick description” or providing translation to the actual cultural events.
For Geertz, culture is the phenomenon that becomes revealed in the actions of a particular person. Culture, according to Geertz, is specific and public. These characteristics mean that culture belongs to particular groups of people and it is the collective property of all individuals in this group. It is also an assembly of socially established concepts of meaning that people are using in their communication.
Geertz argues that culture can also be also seen in the collection of texts. Written manuscripts are thus the physical demonstration of culture. Therefore, an ethnographer may study culture in the same way that a researcher is working with a case study. One thus needs to incorporate the knowledge of the localization of the studied group and the exact details of the event that took place.
Culture is a complex phenomenon that occurs in the process of communication with contextual meaning. Culture exists in the network of present social relations. Consequently, social structure and culture are the two dimensions of the same phenomena.
Expanding on the Author’s Main points
The author’s contribution to ethnographic studies can be hardly underestimated. Greets addressed this area of scholarly studies from a fresh perspective and identified the wide scope of questions that need to be answered to improve the validity of findings made by ethnographers. His vision of culture and the work that an ethnographer is doing can be compared with the tasks done by a literary critique that reads, evaluates, and analyzes a text. For such specialists, many aspects need to come to attention in order to make sure that the results of their work are solid. These aspects include being fluent in the language of studies, having a background in studies, being methodological, and avoid bias. In parallel with a critique, an ethnographer should be fluent in the local language, have a background with the studied culture, be methodological and avoid bias.
The points that Geertz made in this chapter has addressed the very nature and fundament of anthropological studies. He originated a new debate on the topics related to the nature of culture, the difference between culture and social structure, how culture should be perceived, and how the relations between the observed and observer can be regulated. Geertz has made an important contribution into understanding the post-modern world. He has helped anthropologists change their traditional approach to conducting studies in the natural environment of the studied society.
Instead, today’s cultures began to be addressed from the perspective of other cultures. For instance, U.S. or European anthropologists can study a representative of a certain culture invited to their terrain rather than immersing themselves into the cultural environment of the native country of this individual. This approach has improved the understanding of the notion of globalization through the process of international culture assimilation because the technological progress has left almost no individual or culture that has not experienced influence from other cultures and societies.
The Author’s Argument’s Strong and Weak Points
Speaking about the strong points of Geertz’s argument, it should be noted that the author is using a strong theoretic background to build on and prove the appropriateness of the conclusions made. He does not stop there and makes helpful illustrations to help the audience understand the difference between the notions of “thick description” and “thin description” in practice.
For instance, he is using the example of the parodist, whose professional activity can be seen as “thick description”, whereas the phenomenon that one trying to demonstrate is “thin description” according to Geertz. Another strong illustration that the author is providing to the readers to help them ponder into the complexity of the world of ethnography is comparing the work of an ethnographer with the work of a translator whose task is to interpret a manuscript written in a foreign language and with multiple incoherencies, ellipses, and transient examples.
As for the weak points in the argument, Geertz keeps on focusing on the idea that the cultural knowledge is intrinsical of an interpretive character, which seems ambiguous because it is not clear how one can make sure that interpretation is done in a valid way. Next, if it is a highly interpretive matter and multiple different interpretations exist by different persons, then how one can know which interpretation is trustworthy, and which one is unjustified or even completely mistaken. Besides, how can one avoid the dangers of being biased or prejudice? These are the questions that appear to have no distinct answer in the reading under consideration.
Geertz, Clifford. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture.” The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. 3-30. Print.