Interpretive Anthropology


Interpretive Anthropology

A forum for conversations about the concepts and contributions of Clifford Geertz to anthropology.

Members: 69
Latest Activity: Oct 26, 2017

Perspectives in Anthropology

New article on Geertz and Foucault.…considerations/

Discussion Forum

Ethnography: The Stranger Effect and Gift Giving

Anyone who has conducted ethnographic research understands the importance of the participant-observer methodology. When gathering information, it is essential to have an informant that is able to…Continue

Started by Neil Turner Apr 24, 2014.

In what ways do you think Geertz’s work differs from the concept that observers must stand outside the cultures they are observing? 13 Replies

The concept of the interpretation of cultures in anthropology is associated with the work of Clifford Geertz during what has been termed the “interpretive” or “literary’ turn in contemporary…Continue

Started by Neil Turner. Last reply by Neil Turner Apr 19, 2010.

Is anthropology experiencing another crisis in representation?

Traditionally, the practice of anthropology required leaving one’s home country for long periods of time, learning a new language, immersing oneself deeply in another culture for the purpose of…Continue

Started by Neil Turner Dec 30, 2009.

Interpretative Anthropology - is it still a valid approach to cultural analysis?

For the better part of this week, I have been reading posts from many of the groups and discussions that attract my interests and have found many of the forums interesting and exciting. It is against…Continue

Started by Neil Turner Dec 5, 2009.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Neil Turner on August 22, 2011 at 8:59pm
Thanks John for your response...well said...tchau.
Comment by John McCreery on August 22, 2011 at 4:19am

It may have been here on OAC or on Savage Minds; a few weeks ago someone pointed us to Anna Cerwonka and Liisa H. Halkki, Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork. This book pointed me to the magisterial figure of Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose Truth  and Method (1960) was a powerful influence on Geertz. That led me to look for books by or about Gadamer that I could download to the Kindle reader on my iPad, which led me to The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer, edited by Robert J. Dorstal. There I not only found a lucid introduction to Gadamer. I also was awakened to the importance of this thinker, who in many respects anticipates what Neil has written about both Foucault and Geertz.


I am in the process of reading The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer and can claim no expertise. But early impressions suggest the following.


1. Gadamer was deeply aware of the historical specificity of knowledge, i.e., the language, categories and assumptions specific to historical periods and places that shape the starting point for all scholarly thought.

2. Gadamer was, however, also aware that knowledge is not trapped in the prejudices that scholars living in particular times and places bring to their subjects. New knowledge is generated with scholars with various prejudices interact with each other and/or the texts produced by others with different prejudices. 

3. If, however, they can open themselves to what the others have to say and question their own assumptions, they can enter into fruitful conversations that generate new knowledge.

4. Thus, the hermeneutic circle is not a circle at all. It is a dialogue that, if practiced properly, spirals upward, generating new knowledge and deeper understanding of what has gone before. 

5. Conceived in this way "truth" is neither trapped in the prejudices of particular times and places, nor does it require axiomatic grounding in what are taken to be immutable and inescapable assumptions that, on closer examination, turn out to be the prejudices of this or that particular tribe at this or that particular moment. It remains, while capable of expansion, forever partial and in need of further questioning.

As a self-justifying myth for scholars, it is hard to imagine anything better.


Comment by Neil Turner on August 21, 2011 at 8:39pm
Yes Jan, I was referring to the 1973 English publication.  I made the update to the blog.  Thank you...tchau.
Comment by bashkim lajçi on November 24, 2010 at 11:54pm
It's happy to find many friends on this site. Thanks for meeting...! everyone.
Comment by John McCreery on December 24, 2009 at 9:44am
Here in Japan it is almost 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2009. Best wishes to all on whatever holidays you celebrate. A warm thanks for being here and participating in our conversations. May the new year be a peaceful, healthy and prosperous one.
Comment by John McCreery on December 18, 2009 at 3:30am
'teens negotiate permission spaces with authority and use them as currency for status and recognition among peers'

Interesting. Could we have a bit thicker description, please?
Comment by Arnab Sen on December 17, 2009 at 6:07pm
No perhaps not. It has to produce actionable insights but ones where the layers exist or suggest themselves. I mean nuanced insights like 'teens negotiate permission spaces with authority and use them as currency for status and recognition among peers' rather than 'teens today get leverage with parents / authority' or 'getting spaces for permission from authority is aspirational for teens today'. Or 'these spaces of permission are readily granted because the parents of millenials in India have seen too much change in too short a span to allow them to reinvent the cultural resources with which to interpret their childrens' world' rather than 'the generation gap has narrowed because parents allow their children greater freedom'. Something like that. Yes, obviously it's got be translatable into a positioning statement and a creative brief :-)
Comment by John McCreery on December 17, 2009 at 5:18pm
Of course, consumer work also starts with the rich, nuanced, etc. But as someone who has worked in advertising since 1983, I speak with some confidence when I say that if you fail to come up with actionable insights, the nuances go straight in the trash and the business to someone else. Are things different in India from the way they are in Japan?
Comment by Arnab Sen on December 17, 2009 at 5:12pm
Oops sorry correction - in line 2 for 'former' read 'latter'
Comment by Arnab Sen on December 17, 2009 at 5:10pm
@John McCreery
Agreed that the objective of thick description is different in in business ethnography and in scholarly enquiry. In the former yes, what it gives us is a rich and nuanced understanding of the meanings, values, motivations that operate in a cultural space. In the former, no, it doesn't give the brand owner or marketer consumer hot buttons, what it does give is a rich and nuanced understanding of that set of interactions, transactions, values and meanings which have some relation with the brand or its category. Typically it is thick description through a filter. A flaw, if judged by academic benchmarks but a necessary hazard of the occupation that comes with the objective of brand outward research. But in some broad category researches, especially when trying to understand some technology and finance categories, a full-bodied academic thick description is always a better idea than a filtered one. Take for example a study on mobile telephony in a complex market like India. Can we describe communication without reference to kinship, hierarchy, gender, sexuality, religion, the works. Like a good anthropologist one would have to attempt a thick description of every respondent in terms of every (eurocentric) anthropological category. What most of us end up doing is going to the field with a hypothesis or rather set of hypotheses and see how well they feed into a description. I've personally done outrageous things - gone to field to study group dynamics among teens (for a soda, LOL) and tested four models of sharing food from evolutionary ecology to figure out how well these models work in the cultural space of students sharing knowledge, gossip, movies, music, pictures, software, transacting in access, licence, sex. It always looks like at least two conflicting models can comfortably coexist, the thicker the description, the more such linear models (and potentially conflicting) models can coexist. It's quite like you've pointed out with a reference to Forest of Symbols that meanings are contextual. Yes, and they morph through the ritual cycles of structure, antistructure and liminality in life. Think of journeys across cultural spaces as diverse as a face to face community, a hierarchical and patriarchal home, a campus where experimenting with alternatives offers the liminal zone between the order, control, comfort of home and the anonymity and freedom of a threatening world outside...

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