Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interpretation of Culture by Clifford Geertz

I read the first chapter of Interpretation of Culture by Clifford Geertz. It is actually a collection of essays that he wrote over a number of years. He says himself that it is a very roundabout way to make a book. First, he wrote the essays and then he came up with the title.
That is kind of how he does ethnographic research. He observes and then makes a thick description. He is weary of theories that can be stifling or that oversimplify.
So that is the dilemma of the anthropologist. How do they keep an open mind when they have to pass judgement upon a subculture or a people group?
Well, they write and write and write and hope that that will shed light upon what is happening. They try and make sense of the cultures around them.
But as soon as they try and come up with an all encompassing theory then they are in a bit of trouble. They are not dealing with a hard science. They are dealing with human behavior which is very complex. The origins of someone's actions are hard to pinpoint.
As the author says, "Finding our feet, an unnerving business which never more than distantly succeeds, is what ethnographic research consists of as a personal experience; trying to formulate the basis on which one imagines, always excessively, one has found them is what anthropological writing consists of as a scientific endeavor."
The author goes on to say, "The ethnographer "inscribes" social discourse; they write it down. In so doing, they turn it from a passing event, which exists only in its own moment of occurrence, into an account, which exists in its inscriptions and can be reconsulted."
I hope to record some of my experiences in Korea and make some observations. Then I will hopefully learn more about this fascinating country.

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