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The Interpretation Of Cultures (Basic Books Classics) Paperback – May 19, 1977

18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465097197 ISBN-10: 0465087302

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Editorial Reviews


"Clifford one of the most original and stimulating anthropologists of his generations....Geertz writes of issues that touch us all: The meaning of life and death...The problems of coping with a social order, the need to make sense out of it all....[He] also writes with style, verve, learning, and intelligence." -- Elizabeth Colson, Contemporary Sociology

About the Author

Clifford Geertz, the author of many books, is Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.


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Product Details

  • Series: Basic Books Classics
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 19, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465087302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465097197
  • ASIN: 0465097197
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 90 people found the following review helpful By japanfan on October 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs..."

These cultural "webs of significance" Clifford Geertz speaks of are constructed of religious beliefs and practices, cultural customs, social interactions, attitudes and behavior -- everything around us that we have constructed as rational beings capable of thought and imagination. According to Geertz, the role of the anthropologist is, in a sense, to 'decode' the symbolic meanings of these certain events, practices, customs and interactions that take place within a specific culture, however insignificant they may seem to the observer. Detail is of utmost importance. An anthropologist must become part of the culture -- looking in from the outside he will understand nothing. Of course, in order to reduce the occurrence of the anthropologist's own cultural bias and to attempt to more accurately understand a culture, one could easily say that it is imperative that anthropologists emerge themselves in the customs and practices of that culture. But, even then, is it ever possible for one to grasp an understanding of a culture in which one was not born into? Are humans socialized from birth to perceive all cultural customs and practices through a shady lens, clouded by perceptions of the world they have acquired during childhood?

Geertz believes that, while to some extent it is possible to reach an understanding of a culture outside of our own, it is important to understand that anthropological writing is merely a "thick description," an interpretation of an interpretation. In other words, the anthropologist is interpreting the culture's interpretation of the event that is taking place.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on October 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
This remains one of the seminal works in not just Anthropology, but also in the field of social science, written by a brilliant Social Scientist.

When it was first written in 1973, it was not just "leading-edge," but utterly revolutionary. Today however, in the era of full-fledged "cultural and ethnographic relativity," and in the interim, where symbols have earned a more prominent if not wholly respected cross-disciplinary cachet and place in social science scholarship, many of Professor Geertz's seminal ideas now seem strangely "quaint," but have in any case become as much a part of the mainstream as they have become controversial.

For my money, I prefer to judge this brilliant scholarship, on its own merits as well as against the standards of the times in which it emerged. I have yet to read a first chapter in an English book that is as well constructed and as informatively exciting as that in this book. Geertz, in drawing a bright line between what is universal and constant about man -- versus what is local, ever changing, and merely parochial about him -- attempts to answer the question: Just how important are human differences, and especially differences between cultures?

To answer it, the author moves with seamless facility across, between and well beyond the ossified boundaries of "normal" Anthropology, into myriad related and not so related, fields: such as sociology, philosophy, and the philosophy of science, linguistics, psychology and evolutionary biology, among several others. From their intellectual intersection, Geertz builds up a beautiful theory that culture is a system of shared symbols that allows its members to give shape and meaning to their respective experiences.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey L. Blackwell on October 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
After reading some of the French classical anthropologists first, I was delighted to read Clifford Geertz, a cultural anthropologist who writes with a readable style and make arguments that are somewhat 'self-contained.' For instance, 'Religion as a Cultural System ..' is a classic of social science: one sentence of related abstractions and generalizations is punctuated by illustrations that define the terms and extend an argument to justify the one-sentence hypothesis. This article changed the way that I understood social science and anthro and is often a model for me whenever I write.

excerpt from book
"Let us, therefore, reduce our paradigm to a definition, for, although it
is notorious that definitions establish nothing in themselves, they do, if
they are carefully enough constructed, provide a useful orientation, or
reorientation of thought, such that an extended unpacking of them can
be an effective way of developing and controlling a novel line of inquiry.
They have the useful virtue of cxplicitness: they commit themselves
in a way discursive prose does not (which in this field, especially, is always
liable to substitute rhetoric for argument). Without further ado,then, a

Religion is:
(1) a system of symbols which acts to
(2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by
(3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and
(4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that
(5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."
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