Re: [xmca] Clifford Geertz

From: Ed Wall (
Date: Sun Nov 19 2006 - 19:04:16 PST


     That is why it was all so intriguing. It is interesting to try to
imagine a place outside of culture where one can, so to speak,
observe culture dispassionately and objectively. Fred Erickson in
Talk and Social Theory: grumbles a bit about this point of view where
it occurs, outside of science, in academia.

     As far as cults go, I suspect that one could make a case for such
being in place in every discipline (smile). I am always so humbled
when I go to AERA and realize that somewhere there is a group of
people meeting who consider my ideas somewhat, politely said,


>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 culture.
>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:
>>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.
>>>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.
>>>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.
>>>>>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
>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
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