Clifford Geertz 1926-2006

[excerpts from Obituary, Institute for Advanced Study]
Geertz acknowledged and explored the innate desire of humanity to “make sense out of experience, to give it form and order.” In Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988), Geertz stated, “The next necessary thing…is neither the construction of a universal Esperanto-like culture…nor the invention of some vast technology of human management. It is to enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other’s way.”
Geertz recounted that he was exposed to a form of anthropology “then called, rather awkwardly, ‘pattern theory’ or configurationalism.’ In this dispensation, stemming from work before and during the war by the comparative linguist Edward Sapir at Yale and the cultural holist Ruth Benedict at Columbia, it was the interrelation of elements, the gestalt they formed, not their particular atomistic character that was taken to be the heart of the matter.”
Back in the day when I attended several Tavistock conferences (note new book) I met folks who were into Gestalt Theory, which – I wonder? – may trace some of its roots back to Geertz. Still tempts me as something to look into someday. The analogy of a soap bubble used at the site linked is akin to the imagery I’ve had concerning gravity…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *