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Clifford Geertz: Culture Custom and Ethics

ISBN: 978-0-7456-2158-6
224 pages
July 2000, Polity
Clifford Geertz: Culture Custom and Ethics (0745621589) cover image


This is the first full-scale study of the work of Clifford Geertz, who is one of the best-known anthropologists in the world today. In a lively and accessible introduction to his work, Fred Inglis situates Geertz's thought in the context of his life and times, reviewing its forty-year range.

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.

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Table of Contents



1. The Tenor of the Setting: Formation of an Anthropologist.

2. Making Up His Mind.

3. In the Field (1): Java.

4. In the Field (2): Bali and Morocco.

5. Portrait of a Method.

6. the Competition: The anthropology of anthropology.

7. Theatre States and the Stages of the World.


A Geertz Bibliography.


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Author Information

Fred Inglis is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Sheffield.
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The Wiley Advantage

* This is the first full-length study of Clifford Geertz, who is currently best known anthropologist in the world.
* Summarises and criticises the whole of Geertz's oeuvre, and situates his work in the context of his life and times.
* Explores his main themes of symbolic action, the theatre-state and of culture as narrative, in an engaging style which demonstrates the relevance of Geertz's work to all the human sciences.
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'A book on Geertz was overdue and Fred Inglis was the one to write it. He has done admirably. This study of the work of Clifford Geertz is both comprehensive and entertaining.' Henk Wesseling, Professor of General History at the University of Leiden and Rector of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study

'Fred Inglis's biography is useful and charming. It is useful because it contains so many facts, and because it is perhaps the most detailed intellectual analysis of Geertz's work now available.' Times Literary Supplement

'Inglis has done a masterful job reviewing some of the highlights of Geertz's career and showing how they fit together in a meaningful trajectory.' Choice

'Clifford Geertz is priviledged; he is the first and only anthropologist in the prestigious Key Contemporary Thinkers series ... There is probably no better intellectiual biographer to present Clifford Geertz than Fred Inglis ... For anyone who wants to get into Geertz's head and have a succinct, lively and entertaining account of his work, then Inglis is required reading.' Social Anthropology

''Considerable depth of analysis and insight' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

"It will certainly become a standard reference on the work of this great anthropologist" Paul Shankman, University of Colorado-Boulder. Anthropological Forum 13(1), 2003<!--end-->

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