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Clifford Geertz’s Interpretive Anthropology

Between Text, Experience and Theory


Katarzyna Majbroda

Over the last decades Clifford Geertz’ interpretive anthropology has played an important role in the field of socio-cultural anthropology. The study presents the critical reception of his thoughts in Western countries and Polish anthropology. Interpretive anthropology is based on the category of interpretation and the concept of thick description: the assumed indexical nature of reality and the possibility of unraveling its order through semiotic analysis has influenced the epistemological reflection in anthropology, the approach to theory, fieldwork and the research process.
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Chapter V. Parallel biographies: Clifford Geertz and Claude Lèvi-Strauss


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Chapter V.  Parallel biographies: Clifford Geertz and Claude Lèvi-Strauss

Claude Lèvi-Strauss’ structural anthropology and Clifford Geertz’s interpretive anthropology are widely recognized as different modes of thought, critical of each other. Although these two styles of thinking rarely clashed within socio-cultural anthropology between the 1960s and the 1980s, they exemplified two different ways of practicing anthropology and, above all, different approaches to humanity and to the ways of conceptualizing culture with its functioning.264

The aim of the chapter is to present Claude Lévi-Strauss’ structural anthropology from a dual perspective. Firstly, I would like to point out the inspirations he drew from structural linguistics and semiotics. What I mean here are the principle questions which had crucial impact on his scientific imagination and which, in a wider context, influenced directly not only the way socio-cultural anthropology was practiced (at least till the 1970s), but also the way anthropology was defined, or putting it more precisely, the way it defined itself. Secondly, it is an attempt to discuss some elements of Levi Strauss’ structural anthropology, which were criticized by Clifford Geertz during his work on the principles of interpretive and reflexive anthropology.

Therefore, in the chapter I focus not only on the clear differences between these two idiomatic bodies of research and intellectual approaches, but I also point out similarities in the way these two anthropologists conceptualized culture and formulated possible explanations of mechanisms of its functioning; these concepts and...

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