chapter  5
5 Pages

Main Ideas

ByAbena Dadze-Arthur

In The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Clifford Geertz argues for an understanding of culture as a system of shared meaning: the collective understanding held by members of the same society. As Geertz saw it, every society has symbols and symbolic actions that represent the main tenets of its shared meaning. In The Interpretation of Cultures, Geertz proposed anthropologists should consider their principal tasks to be providing thick description and interpreting it to outsiders. Geertz concluded that anthropologists gain insight into a culture by decoding particularly important symbols and symbolic action, such as myth and ritual. Geertz argues, in essence, that we must pay attention to the full meaning of people's actions before we can believe we understand them. The essays in The Interpretation of Cultures first defined culture, then examined two specific cultural systems, and finally applied Geertz's method of thick description to interpreting a particular ritual.