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Lecture 8

ANTH 3690 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Clifford Geertz, Componential Analysis, Edward Burnett Tylor

Course Code
ANTH 3690
Marta Rohatynskyj

of 3
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
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
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.’
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 Assertion of Book of humankind constitutes a manifold, a totality of interconnected processes and
inquiries that disassemble this totality into bits and then fail to reassemble it - falsify reality.
Main enemy - reification
Nation, society, culture - threaten to turn names into things
Criticizes teleological notions of evolution - a moral success story
Humanity is globally interconnected and has been as long as has been known
The Rise of Social Sciences
In the mid 19th century, inquiry into human experience was dominated by political economy –
the study of how wealth was accumulated
Then, this study became compartmentalized into a number of disciplines
Premises of sociology
Individuals enter into social relations which can be abstracted from political and economic
The growth of these ties supports social order
Moral consensus – often irrational – promotes the growth of these ties
These ties assure stable internal structure
National societies – each society is a thing moving in response to an inner clockwork.
Division of aspects of the social relations into distinct disciplines results in self-perpetuating
explanatory schemes
The Development of Sociological Theory
2 types of societies
Where social relations are dense and suffused with value consensus
The other where social disorder predominates because social relations are atomized and
deranged by dissensus over values
The moves to ‘modern’ society was seen as a move between these two states by early
Modernization – used the term ‘modern’ but meant the United States; said ‘traditional’ but
meant ‘all those others that would have to adopt that ideal to qualify for assistance. (p.413)
early evolutionists and diffusionist’s did have a sense of the interrelatedness of peoples
Ethnographic methodology dictated the focus on dicrete units
‘Thus, a methodological unit of inquiry was turned into a theoretical construct by assertion, a
priori. The outcome was series of analysis of wholly separate cases.’ (p.414)
Just as sociologists pursue the will-o’-the-wisp of social order and integration in a world of
upheaval and change, so anthropologists look for pristine replicas of the pre-capitalist,
preindustrial past in the sinks and margins of the capitalist, industrial world. (p.417)
Given the complex interrelationships both historically and in the present between peoples in
the world, it is impossible to view any given culture as a bounded system or as a self-
perpetuating ‘design for living.’
We must return to the questions about production, class formation and conflict found in Marx
1. We can not understand the present world unless we trace the growth of the market and the
course of capitalist development
2. We must have a theory of that growth and development
3. that theory must be able to delineate the processes that affect and change the lives of local
4. Must be able to distinguish capitalism from other forms
5. Must be able to account for populations specifiable in time and place, both as outcomes of
significant processes and as their carriers.