Free The Interpretation Of Cultures Book Review Sample

Type of paper: Book Review

Topic: Culture, Literature, Concept, Interpretation, Perception, Art, People, Communication

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/03


Clifford Geertz is considered the most popular anthropologist in America. This paper explores the concept of culture presented in his book. The main attention is dedicated to the analysis of structural components of the culture, which, according to Geetz, are religion, ideology, and art. The paper also provides a brief overview of the main theoretical postulates, which have formed a theoretical base of interpretative anthropology.
The concept of culture is one of the key themes of cultural anthropology. The first chapter of the book written by Geertz is dedicated to the interpretative theory in culture. He considered himself a supporter of Weber’s understanding of sociology and associated the idea of culture with the idea of the lifestyle and behavior. Starting point of the scientific research realized by the author is dissatisfaction with the existing diversity of definitions of culture and desire to provide the concept with defined boundaries to make it available for further scientific analysis. This approach is a critique of a phenomenalistic description of social phenomena, which may seem similar but have different values. It implies the need to find a common language with the particular culture of mutual understanding or dialogue. Geertz formulated two stages. The first is a scientific analysis, which creates a vague border between fact and theory, due to the fact that the perception by people of their culture is a simple interpretation. The second stage is ordering of received information, which detects the problem of interpretation. At this point, the author talks about “generalization” (Geertz, 1973, p.40) and the “ability of the scientific imagination” (Geertz, 1973, p.80). Geertz constantly reminded of a necessity to respect analysis of the particular culture.
The second chapter of the book called “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man”. In order to understand the phenomenon of human culture through the lens of an American scientist, it is easy to determine two fundamental ideas presented in the first part of the book. Firstly, he proposed to abandon simplified deterministic view on culture as a set of specific behaviors that had been common in cultural anthropology of the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Clifford Geetz offered to consider it as “a set of control mechanisms as plans, recipes, rules, instructions” (Geertz, 1973, p.44). Secondly, Geertz was convinced that a human being is an animal that depends more than others from such cultural programs (Geertz, 1973, p.71). These cultural programs exist in the form of complexes of significant characters, words, gestures, pictures, sounds, or music. Thus, the author presented culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz, 1973, p.89). That is why he gave serious attention to the symbolism. But signs and symbols as components of culture should not be subjected to interpretation and recoding. They have to be filled with specific content related to life and culture.
The third chapter of the book develops the previous ideas. It was called “The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind”. Geertz dedicated it to the issues of human mind. He underlined that being human means to be everyone. The anthropologist found ethnographic material an important field of study relationships, attitudes, characters that people use in everyday life. He drew attention on the practical significance of things and phenomena. Hence he believed that culture is not a source of causality, but a context of intelligibility. According to Geertz, people receive information from ancestors, which is designed to guide next generations. American anthropologist divided it in two blocks: ethos and image, which is a picture of the world. In the concept of Geertz, ethos is ethical, esthetic and axiological aspects of culture (Geertz, 1973, p.55-57). It reflects the character and style of life of people, who belong to this culture. It forms the basis of the relationship of people with the world. Picture of the world is based on the forms of existence of objective reality. It is a certain way of understanding of nature, people, society, the idea of world’s creation. In other words, this concept combines the epistemological and ontological aspects of cosmogony. Addressing the question of the mode of collaboration of these two information units, Clifford Geertz emphasized that ethos becomes intellectually defensible, if it is understood as a reflection of the way of life. From this point of view, the image of the world becomes emotionally acceptable in case it is realistic.
The interpretation of cultures represents a first part of the collected essays written by the author. The collection reflects the early ides of the author. It is dedicated to the issues of interpretation theory, the idea of hermeneutics, symbolic philosophy. There can be seen impact of Parsons’s research, ideas of Max Weber, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle. The first three the chapters dedicated to the initial search for culture as a social action.


Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

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