Geertz, Clifford James

Clifford Geertz 1926-2006
Clifford Geertz 1926-2006 by xeeliz via Flickr

Clifford James Geertz (1926-2006) was an influential American anthropologist. He’s best known for his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), which outlines the importance of symbolic thought and communication in the generation and reproduction of cultures.

Geertz argues for a so-called ‘thick interpretation’ of symbols instead of a ‘thin’ one. By this he means that anthropologists should interpret symbolic meanings within the context of a given culture. So instead of postulating the idea of inherited universals, as Carl Jung did with his theory of archetypes, Geertz wants to see how language and symbolic thought reflect and inform everyday life.

While Geertz is to be applauded for his desire to understand people within the context of their cultures, just how this is done without subjective bias remains an important question for anthropologists.

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