Clifford Geertz, . Harvard University Press

The major difference between the two schools lies in their respective influences. Geertz was influenced largely by the sociologist Max Weber, and was concerned with the operations of "culture" rather than the ways in which symbols operate in the social process. Turner, influenced by Emile Durkheim, was concerned with the operations of "society" and the ways in which symbols operate within it. (Ortner 1983:128-129; see also Handler 1991). Turner, reflecting his English roots, was much more interested in investigating whether symbols actually functioned within the social process the way symbolic anthropologists believed they did. Geertz focused much more on the ways in which symbols operate within culture, like how individuals "see, feel, and think about the world" (Ortner 1983:129-131).

At the end of Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight, Geertz poses a question of social semantics, what does one learn about such principles from examining culture as an assemblage of texts? The response is an aspect of his work that made him highly influential to this day, “the culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong” (Geertz 1973: 452). Societies are like lives and contain their own interpretations the most important thing to learn is to how to gain access to them.

In The Interpretation of Cultures, the most original anthropologist of his generation moved Geertz Clifford The Interpretation Of Cultures Selected Essays far beyond the traditional confines of his discipline to develop an

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Symbolic anthropology studies the way people understand their surroundings, as well as the actions and utterances of the other members of their society. These interpretations form a shared cultural system of meaning--i.e., understandings shared, to varying degrees, among members of the same society (Des Chene 1996:1274). Symbolic anthropology studies symbols and the processes,such as myth and ritual, by which humans assign meanings to these symbols to address fundamental questions about human social life (Spencer 1996:535). According to Geertz, man is in need of symbolic "sources of illumination" to orient himself with respect to the system of meaning that is any particular culture (1973a:45). Turner states that symbols initiate social action and are "determinable influences inclining persons and groups to action" (1967:36). Geertz's position illustrates the interpretive approach to symbolic anthropology, while Turner's illustrates the symbolic approach.

Reason, Religion, and Professor Geertz, 1995

The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays is a 1973 book by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz. The book was listed in the Times Literary Supplement

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1991[1975] Geertz. In: Mario J. Valdes (ed.), , pp. 182-194. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Victor Witter Turner (1920-1983) was the major figure in the other branch of symbolic anthropology. Born in Scotland, Turner was influenced early on by the structional-functionalist approach of British social anthropology (Turner 1980:143). However, upon embarking on a study of the Ndembu in Africa, Turner's focus shifted from economics and demography to ritual symbolism (McLaren 1985). Turner's approach to symbols was very different from that of Geertz. Turner was not interested in symbols as vehicles of "culture" as Geertz was but instead investigated symbols as "operators in the social process" (Ortner 1983:131) believing that "the symbolic expression of shared meanings, not the attraction of material interests, lie at the center of human relationships" (Manning 1984:20). Symbols "instigate social action" and exert "determinable influences inclining persons and groups to action" (Turner 1967:36). Turner felt that these "operators," by their arrangement and context, produce "social transformations" which tie the people in a society to the society's norms, resolve conflict, and aid in changing the status of the actors (Ortner 1983:131).

Clifford Geertz Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight Essays

Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) studied at Harvard University in the 1950s. He was strongly influenced by the writings of philosophers such as Langer, Ryle, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Ricouer, as well as by Weber, adopting various aspects of their thinking as key elements in his interpretive anthropology (Handler 1991; Tongs 1993), the results of which can be found in his compilation of essays entitled "The Interpretation of Cultures" (1973c).He believed that an analysis of culture should "not [be] an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" (Geertz 1973d:5). Culture is expressed by the external symbols that a society uses rather than being locked inside people's heads. He defined culture as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life" (Geertz 1973e:89). Societies use these symbols to express their "worldview, value-orientation, ethos, [and other aspects of their culture]" (Ortner 1983:129). For Geertz symbols are "vehicles of 'culture'" (Ortner 1983:129), meaning that symbols should not be studied in and of themselves, but for what they can reveal about culture. Geertz's main interest was the way in which symbols shape the ways that social actors see, feel, and think about the world (Ortner 1983:129). Throughout his writings, Geertz characterized culture as a social phenomenonand a shared system of intersubjective symbols and meanings (Parker 1985).


Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (1983) Basic Books, 2000, p. 58. The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973 .

David Schneider (1918-1995) was another important figure in the "Chicago school" of symbolic anthropology. He did not make the complete break from structuralism that had been made by Geertz and Turner, rather he retained and modified L�vi-Strauss' idea of culture as a set of relationships (Ortner 1983; Spencer 1996). Schneider defined culture as a system of symbols and meanings (Keesing 1974:80). Schneider's system can be broken into categories, however there are no rules for the categories. According to Schneider (1980:5), regularity in behavior is not necessarily "culture," nor can culture be inferred from a regular pattern of behavior. A category can be made for an observable act, or can be created through inference. Therefore, things that cannot be seen, such as spirits, can embody a cultural category (Keesing 1974:80). Schneider was interested in the connections between the cultural symbols and observable events and strove to identify the symbols and meanings that governed the rules of a society (Keesing 1974:81). Schneider differed from Geertz by detaching culture from everyday life. He defined a cultural system as "a series of symbols" where a symbol is "something which stands for something else (1980:1). This contrasted with the elaborate definitions favored by Geertz and Turner.

Get this from a library! The interpretation of cultures : selected essays. [Clifford Geertz]

Symbolic anthropology views culture as an independent system of meaning deciphered by interpreting key symbols and rituals (Spencer 1996:535). There are two major premises governing symbolic anthropology. The first is that "beliefs, however unintelligible, become comprehensible when understood as part of a cultural system of meaning" (Des Chene 1996:1274). Geertz's position illustrates the interpretive approach to symbolic anthropology, while Turner's illustrates the symbolic approach. The second major premise is that actions are guided by interpretation, allowing symbolism to aid in interpreting ideal as well as material activities. Traditionally, symbolic anthropology has focused on religion, cosmology, ritual activity, and expressive customs such as mythology and the performing arts (Des Chene 1996:1274). Symbolic anthropologists have also study other forms of social organization such as kinship and political organization. Studying these types of social forms allows researchers to study the role of symbols in the everyday life of a group of people (Des Chene 1996:1274).