chapter  3
5 Pages

The Problem

ByAbena Dadze-Arthur

In The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Clifford Geertz sought to address anthropology's need to redefine the concept of culture. In doing this, he hoped to reassert the usefulness of anthropology as an academic discipline. Symbols such as a white dove or symbolic actions such as a smile signify ideas and represent qualities that have different, much deeper meaning than the literal meaning of the object or gesture. For example, as a symbol the white dove represents peace; a smile may symbolize the feeling of affection the smiler has for the person he or she smiles at. Symbols change their meanings based on the situation in which they are being used. Few anthropologists of Geertz's generation agreed about the definition of culture. Geertz believed that symbols get their meanings from the roles they play in people's lives, which is why we must study them as phenomena.