She uses the term ‘going native’ to describe how she fully participated in many of the pagan traditions and rituals in order to fully understand their culture. It is only then that you can understand the reason behind and the meaning of action. Later in his book, Geertz gives the example of sheep stealing in Morocco in 1912 to further illustrate this point.
Hollis and Luke discussed his example in ‘Rationality and Relativism’ (1982). Their main concern appears to be that of perspective. They believe that to fully understand an action or a chain of events you must understand the perspective of those involved.They add that this also applies to the anthropologist involved as they may have their own perspective that influences the recording of such events. A relevant example may be when Geetrz was in Bali and observed a cock fight. When the police arrived to arrest those involved, he ran away with the locals instead of pleading ignorance and showing his documents as a tourist might be expected to do. He was then accepted by the locals and felt that this gave him an insight into their culture and way of life and enabled him to write more accurately about them.Hollis and Luke’s example is also important when interpreting texts.
Many authors of anthropological texts are no longer alive and therefore the initial perspective that it was written in may have been lost and we may not be able to place the text in a cultural context. This was further illustrated by Paul Ricoeur who said that speech has a number of features; it is temporal, self-referential, it expresses a word (relevance may differ from culture to culture) and he say’s it has an ‘other’, in that the person who hears it may attribute a different meaning to it.He goes on to discuss this in texts, saying that they tend to fix meaning, more so at locutionary and illocutionary levels. The author’s role diminishes and the other becomes anyone who can read. Criticisms of Geertz’ work can be found in Paul Rainbows book, ‘Representations are social facts: Modernity and Post modernity in Anthropology (1986). He says that Geertz has not developed a new method of anthropological study, ‘[he] is just pausing between monographs to muse on texts, narrative, description and interpretation’ (p. 242).’Geertz, like other anthropologists is still directing his efforts to reinvent an anthropological science with the help of textual mediations.
The core activity is still social description of the other, however modified by new conceptions of discourse, author or text’ (242). This appears to me to be exactly what Geertz was trying to do. To analyse texts or actions in more detail, a ‘thick description’. Whether or not he has created a new method of anthropological study does not seem as important as the results of his study.The fact remains that in order to accurately discuss an action you must understand the cultural context that the action takes place in. Prior to the works of Weber, Ryle and Geertz, this did not appear to be the case.
Anthropologists like Durheim seemed more interested in studying the structure of society, families and the distribution of work for example. The work of Marx was similar in his study of class structures. Weber and Dilthey however, drew a new model of ‘explanatory understanding and direct understanding’, which stated that in order to directly understand an action, you must understand the motives behind it.This study was further drawn upon by the work of Alfred Shutz (1899 – 1959). Shutz looked at Weber’s work on meaning and developed his own theories drawing primarily on the example of language. He showed how two words that can be translated as the same thing, have different meanings in different cultures. An example of this might be if an American were to point at a pair of trousers he would call them ‘pants’, this word has a different meaning to an Englishman who would think he was talking about underwear.
The work of Weber, Dilthey and Shutz appears to be much of the inspiration behind Ryle and Geertz’ work and the development of the concept of ‘thick description’. The concept of ‘thick description’ is a relatively new one, although it seems to be fairly well documented. It has been spoken of as if it were a new movement in anthropological study and that Clifford Geertz was its discoverer, I hope that this paper has shown that there were other sociologists that have influenced this area of study such as Weber, Ryle and Saussure to name just a few.It has come under criticism from writers such as the fore mentioned Paul Rainbow, who suggested that it is not a new sociological movement. This however, is not the major issue that I wished to discuss in this paper. My main aim was to assess the concept itself and not to discuss how ground breaking it is. It should appear clear that it has benefited sociological and anthropological study tremendously, as it is a theory that now seems to be a natural process when studying actions.
To have a greater understanding of the culture in which an action takes place or in which a text is written is to have a greater understanding of that action or text.Bibliography 1. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures.
1973. New York. Basic Books 2. N. Abercrombe, S. Hill, B.
S. Turner. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 2000. Penguin 3. Paul Rainbow. Representations are Social Facts: Modernity and Post-Modernity in Anthropology.
1986. University of California. London 4. Hollis and Lukes. Rationality and Relativism. 1982. Blackwell.