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GEERTZ – Thick description (FICHAMENTO)

GEERTZ, Clifford. The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. Chapter 1, Thick description: toward an interpretive theory of culture.

  • “In her book, Philosophy in a New Key, Susanne Langer remarks that certain ideas burst upon the intellectual landscape with a tremendous force. They resolve so many fundamental problems at once that they seem also to promise that they will resolve all fundamental problems, clarify all obscure issues”. (p. 3)
  • “The second law of thermodynamics, or the principle of natural selection, or the notion of unconscious motivation, or the organization of the means of production does not explain everything, not even everything human, but it still explain something; and our attention shifts to isolating just what that something is, to disentangling ourselves from a lot of pseudoscience to which, in the first flush of its celebrity, it has also given rise”. (p. 4)
  • “The concept of culture I espouse, and whose utility the essays below attempt to demonstrate, is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning”. (p. 5)
  • “Ryle’s discussion of ‘thick description’ appears in two recent essays of his (now reprinted in the second volume of his Collected Papers) adressed to the general question of what, as he puts it, ‘Le Penseur‘ is doing”. (p. 6)
  • “The object of ethnography: a stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures in terms of which twitches, winks, fake-winks, parodies, rehearsals of parodies are produced, perceived, and interpreted, and without which they would not in fact exist, no matter what anyone did or didn’t do with his eyelids”. (p. 7)
  • “Analysis, then, is sorting out the structures of signification and determining their social ground and import”. (p. 9)
  • “Doing ethnography is like trying to read a manuscript – foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behaviour”. (p. 10)
  • “‘A society’s culture,’ to quote Goodenough again, this time in a passage which has become the locus classicus of the whole movement, ‘consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members'”. (p. 11)
  • “The cognitivist fallacy – that culture consists (to quote another spokesman for the movement, Stephen Tyler) of ‘mental phenomena which can be analysed by formal methods similar to those of mathematics and logic’ – is as destructive of an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction”. (p. 12)
  • “We are seeking, in the widened sense of the term in which it encompasses very much more than talk, to converse with them, a matter a great deal more difficult, and not only with strangers, than is commonly recognized”. (p. 13)
  • “As interworked systems of construable signs (what, ignoring provincial usages, I would call symbols), culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly – that is, thickly – described”. (p. 14)
  • “In short, anthropological writings are themselves interpretations”. (p. 15)
  • “The claim to attention of an ethnographic account does not rest on its author’s ability to capture primitive facts in faraway places and carry them home like a mask or a carving, but on the degree to which he is able to clarify what goes on in such places, to reduce the puzzlement to which unfamiliar acts emerging out of unknown backgrounds naturally give rise”. (p. 16)
  • “Behavior must be attended to, and with some exactness, because it is through the flow of behavior – or, more precisely, social action – that cultural forms find articulation”. (p. 17)
  • “As in any discourse, code does not determine conduct, and what was actually said need not have been”. (p. 18)
  • “The ethnographer ‘inscribes’ social discourse; he writes it down“. (p. 19)
  • “Cultural analysis is (or should be) guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses, not discovering the Continent of Meaning and mapping out its bodiless landscape”. (p. 20)
  • “The anthropologist characteristically approaches such broader interpretations and more abstract analyses from the direction of exceedingly extended acquaintances with extremely small matters”. (p. 21)
  • “The locus of study is not the object of study”. (p. 22)
  • “The methodological problem which the microscopic nature of ethnography presents is both real and critical. But it is not to be resolved by regarding a remote locality as the world in a teacup or as the sociological equivalent of a cloud chamber”. (p. 23)
  • “The besetting sin of interpretive approaches to anything – literature, dreams, sumptoms, culture – is that they tend to resist, or to be permitted to resist, conceptual articulation and thus to escape systematic modes of assessment”. (p. 24)
  • “It is for this reason, among others, that the essay, whether of thirty pages or three hundred, has seemed the natural genre in which to present cultural interpretations and theories sustaining them, and why, if one looks for systematic treatises in the field, one is so soon disapointed, the more so if one finds any”. (p. 25)
  • “In the study of culture the signifiers are not symptoms or clusters of symptoms, but symbolic acts or clusters of symbolic acts, and the aim is not therapy but the analysis of social discourse. But the way in which theory is used – to ferret out the unapparent import of things – is the same”. (p. 26)
  • “Our double task is to uncover the conceptual structures that inform our subjects’ acts, the ‘said’ of social discourse, and to construct a system of analysis in whose terms what is generic to those structures, what belongs to them because they are what they are, will stand out against the other determinants of human behavior”. (p. 27)
  • “The aim is to draw large conclusions from small, but very densely textured facts; to support broad assertions about the role of culture in the construction of collective life by engaging them exactly with complex specifics”. (p. 28)
  • “Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is”. (p. 29)
  • “The danger that cultural analysis, in search of all-too-deep-lying turtles, will lose touch with the hard surfaces of life – with the political, economic, stratificatory realities within which men are everywhere contained – and with the biological and physical necessities on which those surfaces rest, is an ever-present one”. (p. 30)


Antes de mais nada, deixar claro ao leitor que a escolha das passagens aqui transcritas nada tem a ver com a identificação da estrutura textual do capítulo. O leitor atento perceberá que as notas foram retiradas uma por cada página do capítulo. Uso deste artifício para obter uma visão geral do texto, selecionando de cada página aquela passagem que mais me chamou a atenção.

Eu sei, está em inglês. Mas a intenção destes fichamentos é facilitar a minha vida. Eu os disponibilizo no blog apenas porque pode ser útil a mais alguém.

Veja também outros fichamentos.


Sobre Vinicius Gregory

Sou bacharel e licenciado em História pela Universidade de Brasília (UnB).


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Sou bacharél e licenciado em história pela Universidade de Brasília (UnB).

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