Interpreting Clifford Geertz pp Cite as. Every new intellectual movement needs to look back from time to time. Revisiting a point of origin can provide a way to clarify a sense of identity, define a mission, and generate profitable intellectual strategies. At its best such a pilgrimage does more than simply worship slavishly at the altar of the totemic ancestor. Rather there will be an effort to reconfigure a legacy to fit present needs and to generate critical readings that have the somewhat unfair benefit of hindsight.
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Self-mockery seems to be an essential ingredient for making an anthropological classic. But I think the real appeal of this article is the way the reader is drawn into the process of anthropological discovery.
The article starts with a heart-pounding chase. Cockfights are illegal and the sudden appearance of the police during one of the first fights Geertz and his wife witnessed sent everyone scurrying home:. On the established anthropological principle, When in Rome, my wife and I decided, only slightly less instantaneously than everyone else, that the thing to do was run too. We ran down the main village street, northward, away from where we were living, for we were on that side of the ring.
About half-way down another fugitive ducked suddenly into a compound-his own, it turned out-and we, seeing nothing ahead of us but rice fields, open country, and a very high volcano, followed him. As the three of us came tumbling into the courtyard, his wife, who had apparently been through this sort of thing before, whipped out a table, a tablecloth, three chairs, and three cups of tea, and we all, without any explicit communication whatsoever, sat down, commenced to sip tea, and sought to compose ourselves.
This story serves two purposes: The first is to draw the audience into the society along with the anthropologist. Not only was he there, but he was embraced by the members of the society who loved his clumsy ways. William Roseberry thinks so. To ask of any cultural text, be it a cockfight or a folktale, who is talking, who is being talked to, what is being talked about, and what form of action is being called for, is to move cultural analysis to a new level that renders the old antinomies of materialism and idealism irrelevant.
In some ways Geertz is one of the most well known anthropologists outside of the discipline, but my sense is that his influence within the discipline itself has waned. Geertz, Clifford. Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. Roseberry, William. Balinese Cockfights and the Seduction of Anthropology. Social Research 49 Like a lot of people I read the Balinese cockfight article in my anthropological youth and I remember enjoying it although the Person, Time, and Conduct essay in that same volume was the one that really captured my attention.
To me most of the articles in Understanding Culture share a common feature: Geertz notices, articulates, and illustrates a conceptual problem then ends with no how-to program for solving the problem he raises. He persuades me that thick description is better than the thin explanations that anthropologist typically provide but offers no criteria for deciding when one description is better than another.
To learn that Balinese lose themselves in cockfights, which are, at least from one perspective, exemplars of selves they want to be, victors in short, bloody, violent conflicts that elevate status may contribute to our understanding of why Bali, now normally seen as a beautiful tourist trap inhabited by lovely people with an extraordinary level of self-control, was, shortly after WWII, the scene of massacres that killed I need to check the numbers around 80, people.
Comparisons with, for example, Cambodia leap to mind, together with the memory that amok was imported into English from Malay.
That what the cockfight has to say about Bali is not altogether without perception and the disquiet it expresses about the general pattern of Balinese life is not wholly without reason is attested by the fact [what a marvellous example of passive voice and absence of the author] that in two weeks of December , during the upheavals following the unsuccessful coup in Djakarta, between forty and eighty thousand Balinese in a population of about two million were killed, largely by one another—the worst outburst in the country.
I find it particularly troubling that Roseberry, ostensibly a political economist, also manages to elide this political context of the contemporary cockfights in favour of some of the economic aspects of their history which I grant is important, but no more important than the contemporary context.
His discussion of the role of sexual [gender? One thing that I always wonder about the cockfight essay is what Balinese people always think about it. Has an Indonesian scholar written a reaction to the piece? Rola brings up an interesting point. My earlier comment got cut short because I had to leave suddenly, but I had wanted to point out something else.
For Geertz, culture is mainly psychological and personal. The idea of culture as a set of symbols that we share back and forth seems almost custom-designed to avoid the kinds of political economic analysis Rola and myself would like to see.
The only place power comes into play in this formulation is in who has access to particular symbols. To come round full circle, it may be worth remembering the material and political conditions of fieldwork in the s, 60s and 70s.
The native is not the only one affected by this context. Think Cold War, Vietnam War, anti-colonial struggles, rampant and sometimes justified suspicion that anthropologists were CIA agents up to God knows what. In Taiwan, when Ruth and I were doing fieldwork in , the first thing we did when arriving in Puli was report to the foreign affairs policeman who seemed, in fact, a very pleasant person…but anyway.
It was, moreover, still possible for people who talked too openly about certain topics to get a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Doing fieldwork in Taiwan in those years meant, among other things, being constantly aware that certain topics were off-limits.
Much as I respect oneman, this is just plain wrong. In The Interpretation of Cultures Geertz explicitly contrasts his position that symbols are found in public behavior with public meanings to psychological approaches that equate culture with mental models Ward Goodenough or subconscious emotions Culture and Personality studies influenced by Freud , thus making culture invisible or a theoretical artifact created by the observer.
When he talks about culture as text, the text is fully material, like words printed in a book. The problem is to learn how to read them, not to decipher something else going on behind the scenes. I suppose Geertz would admit that the interpretive process is heavily determined by all sort of outside factors, but he rarely makes this a factor in his writing.
That makes a lot more sense, and, in my case, explains why, when I went looking for how to produce a thick description, I turned to Victor Turner. Is any of what Roseberry is saying new? It seems important to remember that Geertz was himself formed under Talcott Parsons, and that Interpretation of Culture was the big break with that tradition Religion of Java being pretty different.
We may have moved away from the type of culturalism that ignores the political and economic context, but it seems pretty banal to point this out, at least in American anthropology French anthropology being another story. During the s, commentaries on the Balinese cockfight essay have become quite common, developing, for the most part, in apparent independence….
At the time the original version of this chapter was published, in , this academic industry was undeveloped. Unlike osme of the more recent commentaries, this essay is directed at a more political understanding of culture. ANd, of course the fact that we can still develop a pretty hearty discussion suggests that the issues raised by Geertz around the time I was born are still far from totally settled. Cockfights are illegal and the sudden appearance of the police during one of the first fights Geertz and his wife witnessed sent everyone scurrying home: On the established anthropological principle, When in Rome, my wife and I decided, only slightly less instantaneously than everyone else, that the thing to do was run too.
More Geertz online at HyperGeertz. Works cited in this post: Geertz, Clifford. Pingback: Sennett — The Craftsman in links, no particular order.
Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight
Culture and Politics pp Cite as. This reading alerts us that Americans hold no monopoly on popular culture. Geertz relates both the various events surrounding and the deeper cultural meaning of an example of popular culture, cockfighting on a South Pacific island. For Geertz, cockfighting in Bali engages central cultural values such as honor, dignity, and respect. Thus, rather than seeing Balinese men betting unreasonable amounts of money on a mere game, Geertz portrays what appears as play to be a deadly serious struggle over relative status. Unable to display preview.
Self-mockery seems to be an essential ingredient for making an anthropological classic. But I think the real appeal of this article is the way the reader is drawn into the process of anthropological discovery. The article starts with a heart-pounding chase. Cockfights are illegal and the sudden appearance of the police during one of the first fights Geertz and his wife witnessed sent everyone scurrying home:. On the established anthropological principle, When in Rome, my wife and I decided, only slightly less instantaneously than everyone else, that the thing to do was run too.
The Balinese Cockfight Decoded: Reflections on Geertz and Structuralism
Considered Geertz's most seminal work, the essay addresses the meaning of cockfighting in Balinese culture. Cockfights were generally illegal in Indonesia when Geertz was doing his fieldwork there in the s. The first cockfight that he and his wife viewed was broken up by the police. The experience of hiding from the police in the courtyard of a local couple allowed Geertz to break the tension between himself and the villagers, and perform all of the interviews and observation which make up The Interpretation of Cultures. The essay describes how cocks are taken to stand in for powerful men in the villages, and notes that even the double-entendre sense of the word "cock" exists in the Balinese language as much as in English. The last half of the essay describes the rituals of betting and concludes that the cockfight is the Balinese comment on themselves, as it embodies the network of social relationships in kin and village that govern traditional Balinese life. The title of the essay is explained as a concept of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham — , who defines "deep play" as a game with stakes so high that no rational person would engage in it.
Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight by Clifford Geertz