Clifford Geertz: Culture Custom and Ethics
July 2000, Polity
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The book begins with a chapter-long biography, and places Geertz in the anthropological tradition from which he broke so decisively. This break was inspired by the work of Wittgenstein and Kenneth Burke, who provided Geertz with the lead to construct his theory of symbolic action. This theory was vigorously at odds with the dominant idiom of scientistic inquiry in the human sciences, and since then Geertz has led the practice of these sciences in quite a different direction.
Geertz's progress is charted in detail by his field work in Java, Bali and Morocco, as well as his work in the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His two remarkable collections of essays, the Interpretation of Cultures and Local Knowledge, are enthusiastically summarized and criticized. The celebrated and controversial essay on the Balinese cock fight is defended against its critics, and in an extended conclusion, his account of the Balinese Theatre-State is, as Geertz suggests, proposed as a more adequate method for the combined study of culture and politics than the professionals' routine application of heavy-handed concepts such as 'power' and 'status'.
This book provides a comprehensive overview of one of the most gripping, lucid and entertaining of contemporary thinkers, and in so doing, makes anthropology once again the popular science. It will be of great interest to anthropologists and to students and scholars of cultural studies.