The Interpretation of Cultures  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays is a 1973 book by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz. The book was listed in the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most important publications since World War Two.

The book includes a theory of religion and essays such as "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight".

In "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" , he explains that he adopted the term thick description from philosopher Gilbert Ryle, specifically his lecture "The Thinking of Thoughts: What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?"


At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a champion of symbolic anthropology, a framework which gives prime attention to the role of symbols in constructing public meaning. In The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Geertz described culture as "a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life" (1973:89). Geertz believed that the role of anthropologists was to try to interpret the guiding symbols of each culture.


The book is considered to be influential within the anthropological discipline, particularly in terms of the discussion of thick description as a construct for examining social phenomena.

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