Thick description  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

The term thick description was coined by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle in his 1968 lecture "What is le Penseur doing?."

The term was popularized by the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz to denote description that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider.

Since the 1970s, the term and the methodology it represents has gained currency in the social sciences, cultural history and beyond. Today, "thick description" is used in a variety of fields, including the type of literary criticism known as New Historicism.

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