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Lecture 8

Anth: Lecture 8 Oct. 4th

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ANTH 3690
Marta Rohatynskyj

Lecture 8 Oct. 4 2011 Two Later American Views Of Culture Thicks Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture (1973) Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) The Problem With the Concept of ‘Culture’ • It is a ‘grand idea’ that is made to do all kinds of work - key to the universe • When an idea first comes on the scene it is used in every context and then eventually becomes exhausted. • Culture, defined by Tylor, as the most complex whole has now come to obscure more than it reveals. • Aims to present a semiotic view of culture believing that ‘man is suspended in a web of significance he himself has spun’ (Weber) • Culture is those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of a law but an interpretive one in search of meaning Doing Ethnography • If you want to understand what a science is then you should look at what the practitioners of it do. • They do ‘thick description’ • The twitch of the wink • The parody of a wink • This example presents an image only too exact of the sort of piled-up structures of inference and implication through which an ethnographer is continually trying to pick his way • The story of Cohen at Marmusha, the sheep and the French • That what we call our data are really our own constructions of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to The Manuscript of Culture • Doing ethnography is like trying to read a manuscript - written not in conventionalized graph of sound but in transient examples of shaped behaviour • This does away with all questions of subjectivity/objectivity, mentalist/behaviouralist, etc. • Human behaviour is symbolic behaviour - it signifies ‘superorganic’ obscures this notion of culture - reification • Critique of componential analysis • Culture is public because meaning is. • We are not seeking to become native or to mimic them. • We are attempting to ‘find our feet’ with them. Aim of Anthropology • The enlargement of the universe of human discourse • Culture is not a power ... ‘it is a context, something within which they (events, behaviours, institutions, processes) can be intelligibly - that is, thickly - described’ (p.348) • ‘...we begin with our own interpretations of what our informants are up to, or think they are up to, and then systematize those -’ (p.348) • ‘...anthropological writings are themselves interpretations, and second and third ones to boot.’ (p.348-349) • Determining question for any sample of ethnographic writing - ‘ whether it sorts winks from twitches and real winks from mimicked ones.’ (p.349) Characteristics of Cultural Interpretation • Theory stays close to the ground • It is not predictive • Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete • ‘The essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding their sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said.’ (p.358) Introduction: Europe and The People Without History (1982) Eric R. Wolf (1923-1999) Central
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