Summary of Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures
Clifford Geertz (1926–2006) was one of the most influential anthropologists of the 20th century and was a central influence on symbolic anthropology. Beginning his study in philosophy, he earned a Ph.D. from the Harvard University Department of Social Relations in 1956. From early on in his career, Geertz recognized the value of multidisciplinary work for seeing a richer picture of the world. He taught and performed research at institutions including Harvard University and Stanford University. Ever the empiricist, Geertz performed extensive fieldwork in Indonesia and Morocco. He remained conscious of anthropology’s difficult history, and his work retains an awareness of his position as an outside interpreter of other cultures.
The Interpretation of Cultures, listed by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most important publications since World War II, consists of a collection of essays Geertz wrote throughout his career. Both the content and style of his work had a strong influence on a range of academic fields, expanding far beyond anthropology—in part due to the sheer range of disciplines Geertz drew ideas from. As Robert Darnton writes in the book’s foreword, “There is no Geertzian stamp to be discovered, for there was no such thing as Geertzianism. His work opened up avenues for others to pursue, but the pursuit led in different directions.” We hope the ideas summarized here will inspire you to continue these avenues, or at least get a little more curious about the rich topic of human culture.
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