Understanding Geertz Essay

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Introduction In this essay I will attempt to summarise the work Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture by Clifford Geertz. I will do this by recognising the most important aspects of the work and highlighting my understanding of them. Explaining Geertz’s semiotic concept of culture. In his essay Thick Description, Geertz challenges the accepted techniques in which culture is assessed. He uses Clyde Kuckhohn’s Mirror of Man, a work he believes is a good general introduction to anthropology, as a basis to describe his own view. He believes that Kluckhohns definition of culture as “the total way of life of a people”, is slightly constricted and does not represent the complete picture. He sees the concept of culture as predominately a semiotic one. Semiotic being the study of signs and sign processes. Geertz sees culture as “webs of significance” and the analysis of these webs. This he sees as his “Thick Description” Geertz explains that there is a difference between a thin description of something and a thick description. He describes how he borrows this “thick description” from Gilbert Ryle. Ryle attempts to demonstrate that there is a difference between a thin description of, for example a physical action and the thick description which includes the context. He uses the example of two boys rapidly moving their eye lids, one is a nervous twitch and the other a wink. There is the first boy who has a twitch but the second boy is doing more by winking. There is a communication in the wink and so Geertz believes that the same movement can mean two different things depending on the context. Throw into the mix a third boy imitating the twitch/wink as a way of amusing his friends and we have another way in which this act might be interpreted. It is all dependent on the context or meaning. (Knowles, 2011) In essence Geertz believes that ethnography
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