Clifford Geertz

Clifford Geertz
Clifford Geertz
Born August 23, 1926(1926-08-23)
San Francisco
Died October 30, 2006(2006-10-30) (aged 80)
Nationality American
Fields Anthropology
Institutions Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey
Doctoral students James Siegel, James Boon, Lawrence Rosen, Abdellah Hammoudi

Clifford James Geertz (August 23, 1926, San Francisco – October 30, 2006, Philadelphia) was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology, and who was considered "for three decades...the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States."[1] He served until his death as professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.



Clifford James Geertz was born in San Francisco, California on August 23, 1926. After service in the U.S. Navy in World War II (1943–45), Geertz received his B.A. in philosophy from Antioch College in 1950, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1956, where he studied social anthropology in the Department of Social Relations. He taught or held fellowships at a number of schools before joining the anthropology staff of the University of Chicago (1960–70). He then became professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1970 to 2000, then emeritus professor.

Geertz received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from some fifteen colleges and universities, including Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the University of Cambridge. He was married first to the anthropologist Hildred Geertz. After their divorce he married Karen Blu, also an anthropologist. Clifford Geertz died of complications following heart surgery on October 30, 2006.[2]

Geertzian theory

At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a champion of symbolic anthropology, a framework which gives prime attention to the role of symbols in constructing public meaning. In his seminal work The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Geertz outlined culture as "a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life" (1973:89).

Geertz believed the role of anthropologists was to try to interpret the guiding symbols of each culture. He was considered quite innovative in this regard, as he was one of the earliest scholars to see that the insights provided by common language, philosophy and literary analysis could have major explanatory force in the social sciences.

His oft-cited essay "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" is the classic example of thick description. Thick description is anthropological practice of explaining with as much detail as possible the reason behind human actions. For example one could say a man winked. However, this would not explain why he winked: was he flirting, did he have something in his eye, was he trying to communicate irony in what he had just said...these are the questions an anthropologist must answer.[3]

During Geertz's long career, he worked through a variety of theoretical phases and schools of thought. In 1957, Geertz wrote that "The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological needs...", a statement which reflects an early leaning toward functionalism. Accordingly, in his early career Geertz considered anthropology a kind of science. This is in contrast to Geertz's later enthusiasm for an interpretive approach. In his later work, Geertz spoke particularly of the difficulties that ethnographic research has in getting at an adequate description of objective reality. Geertz attributed this to the fact that people tell ethnographers what they believe to be their own motivations, but those people's actions then often seem to contradict their statements to the researcher. Geertz believed this effect occurred partly due to the problems that people have in verbalizing aspects of their life that they usually take for granted, partly due to how ethnographers structure their research approaches and frameworks, and partly due to the inherent complexity of the social order.

Family resemblances and consociates

Geertz imported the concept of '"family resemblances"...into anthropology from the post-analytic philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, just as he also introduced Alfred Schutz's...distinctions among predecessors, consociates, contemporaries and successors, distinctions that have become commonplace in anthropology'[4] in his wake. Geertz stressed how the links between 'consociate-contemporary-predecessor-successor...[derive from] the umwelt-mitwelt-vorwelt-vogelwelt formulation'[5] of Schutz's phenomenology.


Geertz conducted extensive ethnographical research in Southeast Asia and North Africa. He also contributed to social and cultural theory and is still very influential in turning anthropology toward a concern with the frames of meaning within which various peoples live out their lives. He worked on religion, most particularly Islam, on bazaar trade, on economic development, on traditional political structures, and on village and family life. At the time of his death he was working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world.


Geertz's ideas had a strong influence on 20th century academia. Aside from his influence on anthropology, Geertz' landmark contributions to social and cultural theory were also influential for geographers, ecologists, political scientists, humanists, and historians.[6] University of Miami Professor Daniel Pals wrote of Geertz in 1996, "His critics are few; his admirers legion."[7]


Major publications

Chronologial list of works by Clifford Geertz

  • 1957 Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example. American Anthropologist 59(1):32-54.
  • 1959 Form and Variation in Balinese Village Structure. American Anthropologist 61:991-1012.
  • 1959 The Javanese Village. In Local, Ethnic, and National Loyalties in Village Indonesia. Ed. G. William Skinner. pp. 34–41. New Haven: Southeast Asian Program, Yale University.
  • 1960 Religion of Java. Glencoe: Free Press.
  • 1961 The Rotating Credit Association: A "Middle Rung" in Development. Economic Development and Cultural Change 10:241-263.
  • 1962 Studies in Peasant Life: Community and Society. In Biennial Review of Anthropology 1961. Ed. Bernard J. Siegal. pp. 1–41. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • 1962 The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind. In Theories of the Mind. Ed. J. Scher. pp. 713–740. New York: Free Press.
  • 1963 Agricultural Involution: The Process of Agricultural Change in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • 1963 Peddlers and Princes: Social Change and Economic Modernization in Two Indonesian Towns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • 1963 (editor) Old Societies and New States. New York: Free Press.
  • 1963 The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States. In Old Societies and New States. Ed. Clifford Geertz. pp. 105–157. Glencoe: Free Press.
  • 1964 Ideology as a Cultural System. In Ideology and Discontent. Ed. David Apter. pp. 47–76. New York: Free Press.
  • 1965 The Social History of an Indonesian Town. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • 1965 Modernization in a Muslim Society: The Indonesian Case, 201-211, in Robert O. Tilman (ed), Man, State, and Society in Contemporary South East Asia. London: Pall Mall.
  • 1966 Person, Time, and Conduct in Bali: An Essay in Cultural Analysis. Southeast Asia Program, Cultural Report Series. New Haven: Yale University.
  • 1966 Religion as a Cultural System. In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. Ed. Michael Banton. pp. 1–46. ASA Monographs, 3. London: Tavistock Publications.
  • 1966 The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man. In New Views of the Nature of Man. Ed. J. Platt. pp. 93–118. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • 1967 Politics Past, Politics Preset: Some Notes on the Contribution of Anthropology to the Study of the New States. European Journal of Sociology 8(1):1-14.
  • 1967 The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Levi-Strauss. Encounter 48(4):25-32.
  • 1967 Tihingan: A Balinese Village. In Villages in Indonesia. Ed. R. N. Koentjaraningrat. pp. 210–243. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
  • 1967 Under the Mosquito Net. New York Review of Books, September 14.
  • 1968 Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 136 pp.
  • 1968 Thinking as a Moral Act: Dimensions of Anthropological Fieldwork in the New States. Antioch Review 28(2):139-158.
  • 1972 Religious Change and Social Order in Soeharto's Indonesia. Asia 27:62-84.
  • 1972 The Wet and the Dry: Traditional Irrigation in Bali and Morocco. Human Ecology 1:34-39.
  • 1972 Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. Daedalus 101(1 Winter).
  • 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic.
  • 1973 Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. Clifford Geertz. pp 3–30. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1976 From the Native's Point of View. In Meaning in Anthropology. Eds. Keith H. Basso and Henry A. Selby. pp. 221–237. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • 1977 Found in Translation: On the Social History of the Moral Imagination. Georgia Review 31(4 Winter):788-810.
  • 1977 Curing, Sorcery, and Magic in a Javanese Town. In Culture, Disease, and Healing: Studies in Medical Anthropology. Ed. David Landy. pp. 146–153. New York: Macmillan Publishing.
  • 1979 [with Hildred Geertz and Lawrence Rosen] Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society: Three Essays in Cultural Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See his own contribution on "Suq: The Bazaar Economy in Sefrou" (pp. 123–225).
  • 1980 Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • 1983 Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1983 Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. Clifford Geertz. pp. 121–146. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1983 "From the Native's Point of View": On the Nature of Anthropological Knowledge. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. Clifford Geertz. pp. 55–70. New York: Basic Books.
  • 1983 Notions of Primitive Thought: Dialogue with Clifford Geertz. In States of Mind. ed & comp Jonathan Miller. pp. 192–210. New York: Pantheon.
  • 1984 Anti-Anti-Relativism. 1983 Distinguished Lecture. American Anthropologist 82:263-278.
  • 1984 Culture and Social Change: The Indonesian Case. Man 19:511-532.
  • 1986 The Uses of Diversity. In Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 7. Ed. Sterling M. McMurrin. pp. 251–275. Cambridge and Salt Lake City: Cambridge University Press and University of Utah Press.
  • 1988 Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

The four studies included in the book are:

  • "The World in a Text: How to Read Tristes Tropiques" (pp. 25–48).
  • "Slide Show: Evans-Pritchard's African Transparencies" (pp. 49–72).
  • "I-Witnessing: Malinowski's Children" (pp. 73–101).
  • "Us/not-Us: Benedict's Travels" (pp. 102–128).
  • 1989 Margaret Mead, 1901-1978. Biographical Memoirs 58:329-341. National Academy of Sciences.
  • 1990 History and Anthropology. New Literary History 21(2 Winter):321-335.
  • 1991 The Year of Living Culturally. New Republic, October 21, 30-36.
  • 1992 "Local Knowledge" and Its Limits: Some Obiter Dicta. Yale Journal of Criticism 5(2):129-135.
  • 1993 "Ethnic Conflict": Three Alternative Terms. Common Knowledge 2(3 Winter):54-65.
  • 1994 Life on the Edge. [Review of Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen]. New York Review of Books 41(7 April ):3-4.
  • 1995 After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist. [The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures]. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.
  • 1995 Culture War. [Review essay on Sahlins, How "Natives" Think and Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook]. New York Review of Books 42(19 November 30):4-6.
  • 2000 Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • 2010 Life Among the Anthros and Other Essays edited by Fred Inglis (Princeton University Press; 272 pages)


See also


  1. ^ C. Geertz, R. A. Shweder, and B. Good, Clifford Geertz by his Colleagues (Chicago 2005) p. 1
  2. ^
  3. ^ Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books. pp. 6. 
  4. ^ Geertz, Shweder, Good, (2005) p. 68
  5. ^ Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture (London 1993) p. 367n
  6. ^ "Clifford Geertz 1926 - 2006". Princeton, New Jersey: Institute for Advanced Study Press. 2006. 
  7. ^ Frankenberry, Nancy K.; Hans H. Penner (1999). Clifford Geertz's Long-Lasting Moods, Motivations, and Metaphysical Conceptions. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-13-158591-6. JSTOR 1206117. 
  8. ^ Association for Asian Studies (AAS), 1987 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies; retrieved 2011-05-31


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  • Clifford Geertz — Clifford James Geertz (San Francisco, 23 de agosto de 1926 30 de octubre de 2006) fue un antropólogo estadounidense que fue profesor del Institute for Advanced Study, de la Universidad de Princeton, Nueva Jersey. Contenido 1 Vida 2 Pensamiento y… …   Wikipedia Español

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