Literature/1973/Geertz

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Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.

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  • Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books. [^] "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," pp. 3-30.
      In this essay, he explains that he adopted the term "thick description" from philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Ryle pointed out that if someone winks at us without a context, we don't know what it means. It might mean the person is attracted to us, that they are trying to communicate secretly, that they understand what you mean, or anything. As the context changes, the meaning of the wink changes.
      Geertz argues that all human behaviour is like this. He therefore distinguishes between a thin description, which (to extend our example) describes only the wink itself, and a thick description, which explains the context of the practices and discourse within a society. According to Geertz, the task of the anthropologist is to give thick descriptions.
      In anthropology and other fields, a thick description of a human behaviour is one that explains not just the behaviour, but its context as well, such that the behaviour becomes meaningful to an outsider.

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Gradient-optical-illusion.svg
The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."