Re: [xmca] Clifford Geertz

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Sun Nov 19 2006 - 18:06:58 PST

Mike and Ed,

There is an interesting bit from the transcript (see below) where we
can see the guest's (Roger Sandall's) take on culture. Also, see here for his award-winning
book, "The Culture Cult", in which he "critiques the present
enthusiasm [of anthropology and anthropologists] for tribal
ethnicity". Sorry that this wasn't a fitting tribute to the late
Professor Geertz, but still food for thought!


Alan Saunders: And of course it's fairly common in Western culture
for people to see their cultures as an iron cage, and to wish to
escape from the iron cage. I mean for example, if you think of
somebody like Descartes, he's trying to find a truth that goes beyond
culture; that is true for everybody whether they be Protestants or
Catholics or whatever.

Roger Sandall: Absolutely. That's a position in which what we might
call heroic individual ratiocination stands outside of culture.
There's an immovable point in the universe from which the motions of
various cultures may be observed, and you can get there by means of
reason alone.

Alan Saunders: How would somebody in the Geertzian tradition respond
to what you've just said? I can think of two answers that might be
given. One is, Well we use the metaphor of the web, we are not
entitled to use the metaphor of the iron cage, because we all
generally agree that iron cages are bad things, and we don't want to
be evaluative of cultures, we don't want to be critical, we might
perhaps like to praise them.

And the other thing they might say is Well, you're just wrong in
assuming that reason is not cultural, that reason too, is embedded in

Roger Sandall: You're absolutely right, that is what they would say.
That is what they have said for quite some time. All ratiocination,
all intellectual activity is culture-bound. One culture is - the
classic word is viable, is as viable as another. And this, I think
people like Gellner particularly, regard as self-defeating, as
leading nowhere.

On 20/11/2006, at 8:47 AM, Ed Wall wrote:

> Mike
> Those metaphors may have been, in a sense, the high point. After
> that, both the host and the guest embarked on a journey to suggest
> that Geertz was not enough aware of the iron cage and, in fact, his
> approach would, in a sense, fail to detect iron cages and naively
> be sidetracked (the guest created a story where he placed Geertz in
> North Vietnam taking propaganda as a given), that any hope lay in a
> return to Descartes who, by definition, was immune to such thinking.
> Ed
>> I did not get all the way through, Ed. But I found it quite
>> interesting as
>> far as I got, where the speaker is contrasting the metaphors of
>> "humans
>> suspended in webs of meaning they have themselves helped to contruct
>> (paraphhrase) and of the life world (in this case, bureaucratically
>> organized life worlds, but the metaphor is fungible I believe) as
>> an iron
>> cage both from Weber. Enablement and constraint, enabling who to
>> do what,
>> constraining who from doing what? Classic example of where one
>> needs to rise
>> to the concrete, but a very interesting
>> juxtaposition for me at the moment.
>> mike
>> On 11/19/06, Ed Wall <> wrote:
>>> I just listened. Fascinating. As far as the respectful goes, I tend
>>> to think that something like that first involves reading carefully
>>> the scholar taken up. I was not particularly convinced that this was
>>> the case.
>>> However, what made it fascinating were such statements as
>>> "science is
>>> cognitively impartial" and Descartes with his impartial and
>>> evaluative view from the outside was, in contradistinction to
>>> Geertz,
>>> "on the right track."
>>> Ed Wall
>>>> I haven't yet listened to this, but thought others might be
>>>> interested.
>>>> Phil
>>>> Interpreting culture
>>>> The distinguished American anthropologist Clifford Geertz died last
>>>> month. This week, we take a respectful but sceptical look at his
>>>> work, its origins in philosophy and its consequences for
>>>> philosophy._______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
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