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Implications in
This paper deals with the theoretical background of
Clifford Geertzs interpretive anthropology. Previous
studies1 have already shown that there is strong relation between the hermeneutical philosophical tradition
and the interpretative way of thinking in social sci-

Attila Dobos

ences. My aim is to focus on this relation. I would like

to argue that modern philosophical hermeneutics and
Geertzs interpretations on culture have very similar
implications, so I attempt to point out the mere con-

1 Taylor 1985, Thompson 1981, Bruner

2 Teraoka 1989: 188
3 Rosaldo 1982: 197

anthro p o l i s 3.2

Reflecting on the recent loss of us

all, this essay deals with the theory
of the just passed away enthusiastic
American anthropologist, Clifford
Geertz. The focus will be on the
implicit or explicit connection with
philosophical hermeneutical tradition. The authors purpose is to
sketch the regarding concepts of
Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer and
Ricoeur briefly and to point out the
importance of these thoughts in
Geertzs interpretive anthropology.
Attila Dobos has graduated at the
University of Miskolc in philosophy
and cultural anthropology and is
writing his PhD thesis in modern
philosophy. His mainly involved
with theoretical question of anthropology, such as epistemological
background of interpretive theory in
social sciences.
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crete relations between the theoretical backgrounds of

Geertzs point of view and the tradition of philosophical
hermeneutics. During this process the concerning
thoughts of the following great philosophers will be
analyzed: Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, HansGeorg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. I found this arc of
thinking to be more or less continuous from the perspective of interpretation. The basic inspiration for this
paper was the realization that Geertzs standpoint is
inherently a hermeneutical situation as we use this
concept in the sense of young Heideggers terminology.
Under the spirit of this Heideggerian heritage we must
clarify the take-off point of this investigation so we
should act hermeneutically. Firstly, how do we consider the terms: anthropology and hermeneutics?
Anthropology, as we know it today was established by
Bronislaw Malinowski by his classical statement of
ethnographic fieldwork as the privileged, definitive
source of knowledge about other cultures2. Symbolic
anthropology which involves the Geertzian thinking
as well conquered the terrain of former American cultural anthropology3. As a syllogism, following from the
above mentioned I consider anthropology as science
that is based on ethnographic fieldwork and the basic
unit of its analysis is the symbol. There are two main



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research traditions within this frame: the theory of

symbolic action (and the anthropology of experience4)
introduced by Victor W. Turner and Clifford Geertzs
interpretive anthropology. I will join this latter
research tradition and refer to it as anthropology.
Hermeneutics is an emblematic component of universal
human knowledge from different approaches. On one
hand it is even-aged with the western philosophical
thinking: The title of the second book of Aristotles
Organon is: Peri Hermeneias, even if it wasnt

hermeneutical approach turned into ontology and indi-

hermeneutics in the sense of the word we use today,

rectly the role and importance of strangeness have

but in its basic intention the right understanding,

been revalued. At the same time anthropology is

proper interpretation was crucial. On the other hand

known as the science which has institutionalized and

from the perspective of modern philosophical

professionalized the experience of strangeness. At this

hermeneutics one can see the way how it is developed

point strangeness can be identified as a constitutive

from a simple methodology or profession in the sense of

element of both fields and serves as an important link

techne into a philosophical position, temper or an intel-

between them.

lectual attitude which exceeds its own boundaries and

has become hermeneutical philosophy. The thinking of

The second point, which has significant role in realiz-

Paul Ricoeur and mainly the philosophy of Hans-Georg

ing the implicit inevitability of the connection between

Gadamer are often referred as philosophical hermeneu-

anthropology and hermeneutics is the question of

tics. I will apply this understanding in this paper.

validity of human sciences. This subject was one of the

4 Bruner 1986: 3
5 Turner 1986: 33-44
6 Geertz 1975, Rorty 1991: 203-210
7 Additionally: the concept of deep-play
from Jeremy Bentham, or the thick
description from Gilbert Ryle, or finally the concept of culture could be originated in Max Weber.
8 Carriters 1990: 263
9 Sperber 1985: 15
10 Geertz 2000: 145

most controversial issues during the period named scientism in the late nineteenth century. The newborn

Anthropology and hermeneutics

social sciences faced the challenge of legitimizing their

knowledge after the fashion of natural sciences.
Naturally, it was (and is) impossible. Thus, anthropo-

During the history of anthropology it is unquestionable

logical knowledge is thought to lack the absolute cer-

that momentous philosophers have great impact on

tainty attributed to natural-scientific knowledge8. Two

social scientists. While Turner gained direct inspira-

of the most crucial criteria for such knowledge are:

tions from the thoughts of John Dewey or Wilhelm

impersonality and repeatability. It is easy to concede

Dilthey5, we can recognize the influence of Ludwig

that neither of them works in the practice of anthropol-

Wittgenstein and Richard Rorty in Geertzs oeuvre6.

ogy: the scientist is a fieldworker with his/her owns

Fruitful metaphors were lent from different fields:

personality and the field itself doesnt remind us of a

Turner picked up the category of drama from aesthet-

laboratory. The basic material for the research is a

ics (dramatics), and Geertz borrowed the concept of text

unique living experience supported by reflective obser-

from the theory of literature (letters).7 It happened

vations. Moreover, our observations present no ulti-

with the problem of strangeness (xenos) as well, which

mate reality. As Dan Sperber put it into shape clearly:

was firstly emphasized and analyzed by the phenome-

The resulting description is actually what the ethnog-

nological research during the first third of the twenti-

rapher selected from what he understood of what his

eth century. At that time it had mainly epistemological

informants told him of what they understood.9 As a

relevance, but due to Heideggers early thinking the

consequence the legitimization of anthropological

knowledge is an important and controversial issue
even for today. It is the same question that was in the
nineteenth century: verstehen versus erklren .10 In this
process the work of Dilthey, Gadamer and indirectly
that of Heidegger can be considered as an answer to
the question of legitimacy. One of the direct aims of
Diltheys work was to establish an epistemological base
for human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) by working
out the critique of historical reason. In Gadamers
thought hermeneutics appears being universalized in

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about the history of hermeneutics in his youth, in

which he proclaimed that hermeneutics was in fact created a century earlier in the wake of Luthers principle
of the sola scriptura.11 We refer to Dilthey as a
hermeneutical thinker from around 1910 when he published his famous book, titled: The Formation of the
Historical World in the Human Sciences. In this work
the concept of hermeneutics became central, but what
is essential from our perspective is the term of lived
language and thus serves as a solution for the problem

experience (Erlebnis)12. According to Gadamer, before

of validity. Additionally, Ricouer, analyzing the

his contribution this term had not got conceptual func-

relation between text and act contribute to deepen the

tion (begriffliche Funktion13) and hadnt been in the

affinity between hermeneutics and anthropology.

everyday usage either. Diltheys basic thesis is what

we can call the principle of phenomenality: everything

11 Grondin 2002: 19
12 It is a difficulty in translation:
Erfahrung and Erlebnis are both
often translated by experience but
regarding different connotation of it.
13 Gadamer 1990: 67
14 Dilthey 1976: 161

Summarizing the above, the anthropological and

that is exists for me is falling under the condition that

hermeneutical implications of the experience of

it is a fact of my consciousness. Any subject, any exis-

strangeness and the problem of legitimacy are the two

tence exists exclusively for some consciousness or in

critical points where we can recognize the immanent

some consciousness. In defining the fact of conscious-

necessity for these fields of study to meet.

ness Dilthey breaks with empiricism and is getting to

focus on the lived experience, so he concludes to the
principle of lived experience. Everything which appears

The stages how the hermeneutical

phenomenon has revealed itself

for us is given only in the presence so reality only

exists for us in the facts of consciousness given by
inner experience.14 So for him the ultimate basis, the
unit of consciousness is not the unit of sensation, but a

In the following paragraphs I am going to propound

unit of conscience which is originated in the process of

briefly the chapters in the history of hermeneutics

experiencing life so he named it lived experience.

which has really close connection to the anthropologi-

Dilthey defined an experience as the smallest unit of

cal theory making and to interpretive theory itself. I

presence in the flow of time with unitary meaning.

will concentrate on the four mentioned philosopher

Therefore the life is objectivating in such unit of con-

who I believe had a great impact on Geertzs concept.

science and thus, every understanding is a proper

During this presentation I will describe only the basic

apprehension of these units, which means turning

and significant concepts of these thinkers which are

them back to the spiritual liveliness from which they

needed to build up my argumentation, so I must rest

come. Finally, it means that cognizing the objectivity is

upon the gentle readers background knowledge on

based on the concept of lived experience. So the reflect-

their philosophies.

ed, lived experience creates our common, understandable world for ourselves. A correlating essential term
for Dilthey is expression, which provides us with the

Wilhelm Dilthey (18331911)

understandability of some spiritual thing as its manifestation. Thus, understanding heads from manifesta-

the new ancestor

tions toward the existence which is expressed from

outside appearance to inside content. This process is

During the greatest part of his life, Dilthey considered

himself as a methodologist for the Schools of History.
However, he was the first real historian for the
hermeneutical tradition as well. It was an important
moment: the historicism could became a soil for modern hermeneutical approach because it focused on the
understanding of complexity of human experience on
history rather than on a ruling mindful order based on
assuming infinite and absolute truth. It is quite interesting that Dilthey did not entertain deeply hermeneutics as a science except for an award winner paper

anthro p o l i s 3.2

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Why do we need to emphasize the significance of

Dilthey in connection with anthropology? His position
in the arc of hermeneutical thinking is essential. He
was one of the first thinkers who emphasized the
importance of understanding (verstehen) as an elementary concept in legitimizing human sciences. He found
similarly to historicism that objects which are far from

In the beginning Heidegger was influenced by such

us in time (or in space) are not just evidently given in

thinkers as Droysen or Dilthey, who similarly to

our presence consciousness. They are subjects which

Nietzsche or Kierkegaard have chosen life instead of

need to be investigated and with a certain method we

the dogmatism of metaphysics. But for Heidegger the

can reveal history itself. With this method we can also

concept of understanding doesnt means a tool for auto-

provide legitimacy for human sciences and for anthro-

nomic cognizing, doesnt primarily signal a form of

pology as well with the logic of natural sciences. Later

knowledge, nor just serves as a methodological basis

on concentrating on development of this particular

for human sciences. Originally Heidegger claims,

method appeared to be a dead end, but to bring into

understanding is not to be thought of as a mode of cog-

play the role of understanding in connection with the

nition, he suggests it is more like a theoretical insight.

epistemological base of human sciences was essential.

It is rather something we can do than something we

Additionally, Diltheys concept on experience that has

can know it is an existential, a fundamental moment

lived through serves the ground for Turners initiative

that belongs to Daseins existence the to-be-able-to-

named anthropology of experience chosen among sev-

be (Seinknnen) for Dasein.15 It is a mode of existence

eral alternatives by the annual meeting of AAA

and it is involved somehow in the notion of possibility.

(American Anthropological Association) in 1980.

Furthermore understanding has a character of projec-

Finally we can say with Bruner: Dilthey is a new

tion. Projection involves a primordial comprehension

ancestor in the tradition of human sciences []

upon which particular structures will be encountered.

So summarizing this: understanding is an existential

15 See: Gronden 2002: 51

16 Heidegger 1975: 298

and is involved in the nature of possibility within the

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

breaking out from cognition

character of projection. Understanding can move both

towards the world (understanding beings within the
world) and towards the for-the-sake-of-which (Dasein
as self-understanding), which will provide Dasein a

Heidegger, one of the greatest twentieth century

sighting of its own Being. For us here the former is

philosophers has a significant, but mainly indirect

more important. It means that understanding projects

influence on the theory of anthropology. The interpre-

itself by means of a fore-structure (Vor-structure). In

tations of his oeuvre show big differences, but there is

the process of understanding we always conceive

a consensus about dividing of his work into two parts.

things as something, as what is used for something.

After die Kehre, the turning, his aim was to surpass

This is what Heidegger calls the original hermeneutic

metaphysics and to find the proper language for this

as which differs from the apophantic as that is for

program. For anthropological concern the first half of

understanding phenomena structured by assertions.

his oeuvre has much more relevance with the concept

Moreover: the more original hermeneutic as enables

of hermeneutics of facticity which tends to be an

us to understand the apophantic as, which encom-

alternative for classical metaphysics. It demonstrates

passes the essential features of judgment. All the

the presence of the idea of surpassing metaphysics

moments of assertion are determined by its apophantic

from the early 1920s which was imagined basically

structure Heidegger emphasized.16 This basically


pre-linguistic as-structure is in consonance with the

central endeavor of hermeneutics, i.e. to reach what is
before or behind the assertion. In classical hermeneutical tradition interpretation was considered as an
instrument for understanding. In Heideggers
hermeneutics interpretation is the working out in a
concrete sense of the possibilities projected by the
understanding, so understanding and interpretation
appear to go together. Interpreting something always
means seeing something as something. This is the

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Heidegger warns us many times: the differentia specifica for human beings is the possess of language, so it
was not the concept of animal rationale which the
ancient picture of man originally laid on. While language is thought to be a house of Being in the late
Heideggers thinking, before die Kehre, language was
essentially considered to be speaking, speech
(Sprechen, Rede). Speech is existentially equally primordial as understanding. So the intelligibility of
structural interconnection between interpretation and

Dasein (being-in-the-world) is appearing in speech

understanding.17 Naturally, it is the well known circle

which is the existential fundament of language. Thus,

structure between interpretation and the projection of

language enouncing itself in speaking is not a mere

understanding, the so called hermeneutic circle.

instrument for expression: it can be found in the structure of manifestation of being-in-the-world.

17 See: Cavalier N/A

18 Heidegger 1997: 6

Understanding in this sense provides the possibility for

an ontologically radicalized hermeneutics. The task for
hermeneutics wont be the theory of interpretation anymore, but interpretation itself, which will eventually
elucidate understanding of Being as well.

What is the relevance of these all to

anthropological theory?

Since young Heidegger had a great idea on facticity, we

To turn this question into practice: can we adopt the

gain an inspiration to explicate it within the frame of

concept of hermeneutical situation for the concrete sit-

anthropological practice. Hermeneutics of facticity is

uation of the researcher in his/her fieldwork? I would

actually thought to be an ontology, but the concept of

say: yes. How can we understand strangeness which

hermeneutical situation had a yielding influence on

tends to be thematized by anthropology? In terms of

anthropological theory in my point of view.

hermeneutical situation we are under the necessity to

Heidegger asserts that every interpretation in accor-

clarify our own interpreting situation. (Which is always

dance with the claim of its cognition has a view-point

part of the self-understanding of Being?) It would

(Blickstand), a view-direction (Blickrichtung) and a

mean that firstly the scientist has to parenthesize

view-range (Sichweite). All of them are reflective: the

his/her own sets of values. To proceed with this, he/she

visual stance has to be well acquired and con-firmed,

has to be awake to the evidently given basic values

because this is the basement for the whole building

originated in tradition without any reflection. It is not

through motivating the visual direction. This latter

a punctual event, but a process which needs to be

determines the as-what (als was) structure con-cerning acquired during the practice. If we fail to recognize the
the subject of interpretation and the toward-which

pre-structure of our understanding, our interpretations

(woraufhin) on which the interpretation has to be

will surely enforce the subject in front of us, strange-

regarded. These two assign the visual breadth which

ness will possibly reveal itself in terms of our deter-

serves as a validity horizon for the interpretation. Thus

mined interest. The entity itself will be locked away

the task of hermeneutics is to make this situation

from the glance of research.

transparent and bring this transparency into the origin

of interpretation (in den Ansatz der Interpretation zu
bringen)18 This is the first time, according to Grondin,
when it is possible to control the previously interpreted
knowledge working in the back-ground by reflecting on

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

being aware of history

our pre-structure. Hence, the things to be explored,

understood have the chance to reveal their own

Longer than a century was his life and his influence

particularity in contrast with our background

on humanities will be even longer. Gadamer was a dis-

knowledge. The first duty of every honest interpretation ciple of Heideggers. His work which brought him
must be reflectively aware of the pre-structure of

world-wide fame in 1960s rooted in the thoughts of his


young professor, who was standing in front of the university student, Gadamer. Another source of his ideas
which perhaps serves as the main motivation for this
work is the problem of legitimizing human sciences.

anthro p o l i s 3.2

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refers to that situation by means of the phenomenological concept of horizon (Horizont) understanding and
interpretation thus always occur from within a particular horizon that is determined by our historicallyeffected situatedness. Anywhere we understand, effected history appears as a finally unexplainable horizon
on which something could make sense at all. This horiFacing with historicism is central in the range of his

zon of understanding is neither static nor unchanging

ideas. While Dilthey and his contemporaries were trou-

it is always subject to the effects of history. Just as

bled themselves about developing a particular method

our unreflective background knowledge is brought into

which could fulfill the criteria of generality, Gadamer

question in the process of understanding, so, is the

is not focusing on a special method. He wants to go

horizon of our own understanding in the encounter

behind the question and concentrates on the nature of

with another one subject to change. Gadamer was not

understanding. He deems the main question of histori-

afraid to declare: historically effected consciousness is

cism basically faulty, and directly concludes on doubt-

rather Being than consciousness (mehr Sein als

ing the possibility of such method. Finally, he asserts:

Bewusstsein). Additional important contribution of

there is no standalone particular method for human

Gadamers hermeneutics is about the analysis of expe-

sciences.19 He suggests investigating what the idea of

rience. The phenomenological hermeneutical critique

method means and how the concept of inductive logic

or destruction of the positivistic concept of experience

wanted to become imperative in human sciences. At

has revealed the nature of linguistically articulated

this point Gadamer turns to the terrain of aesthetics,

experience. Experience has originally linguistic charac-

because he found the roots in the humanistic tradition

ter. To realize some unit of sensation in experience

prior to Immanuel Kant. He uses human sciences as

needs additional abstraction. In Gadamers point of

interpretive sciences do demonstrate that the idea of

view understanding has a dialogical structure inas-

universal cognition is unsustainable.

much as a matter of negotiation between oneself and

19 Gadamer 1990: 13

ones partner in the hermeneutical dialogue.

From thematizing understanding in human sciences

Understanding occurs when the partners come to an

Gadamer goes further on the basis of expanded

agreement about the issue this is what Gadamer

Heideggerian concept of understanding towards a gen-

takes to be a process of the fusion of horizons. The

eral notion of understanding. Hermeneutics is going

notion of horizon employed here derives from phe-

through a process of philosophical self-awareness in his

nomenology according to which the horizon is the larg-

magnum opus, Truth and Method, and one could com-

er context of meaning in which any particular mean-

pose the opposite of this sentence as well: philosophy is

ingful presentation is situated. If understanding is

going through a process of hermeneutical self-aware-

taken to involve a fusion of horizons, then it always

ness. If hermeneutics is practicing interpretation of

involves the formation of new context of meaning that

texts, it has to be true for texts in which hermeneutics

enables integration of what is otherwise unfamiliar or

historically has crystallized as well. He found his

strange. From this point of view all understanding

notion of understanding grounded in the concept of his-

involves a process of mediation and dialogue between

torically effected consciousness. The essence of this con-

what is familiar and what is alien, in which neither

sciousness could be grasped in a certain duality: on one

remains unaffected. This process of horizonal engage-

hand it signifies the consciousness produced and deter-

ment is an ongoing one that never achieves any final

mined by history, and on the other hand consciousness

completion or complete elucidation. Gadamer views

itself is that mode of being that is conscious of its own

understanding as always linguistically mediated. If the

historical being effected. This latter at the same time

experience is originally linguistic, then the substance

make us face with the limitations of our current situa-

of tradition is characterized by linguisticality. Thus

tion and is an unequivocal philosophical expression of

our finitude. According to Heideggers hermeneutical
situation, understanding always occurs against
the background of our prior involvement, so one could
claim it always occurs on the basis of our history.
Gadamer asserts that awareness of the historically
effected character of understanding is identical with
the awareness of the hermeneutical situation. He also

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Gadamer could lead to the conclusion that the linguisticality of understanding is the concretion of historically effected consciousness. So in every current situation
understanding means the getting involved in the happening of tradition properly.
20 See: Malpas 2003
21 Ricoeur 1981: 197-222
22 Thompson 1981: 13
23 Dauenhauer 2002
24 Ricoeur 1981: 189

According to Heidegger, hermeneutics concerns our

fundamental mode of being in the world and understanding is thus the basic phenomenon in our existence. We cannot go back behind understanding, since
to do so would be to suppose that there was a mode of

articulated in assertions. The naming power of lan-

intelligibility that was prior to understanding.

guage given by participating in the object ensures

Gadamer claims that language is the universal horizon

special and unique access to the thing, which opens

of hermeneutic experience and that the hermeneutic

new dimensions for anthropological cognition.

experience itself is universal.


An additional important issue is what we meant by

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005)

language. Both Heidegger and Gadamer reflectively

make distance from the notion of language in terms of
the twentieth century linguistic turn. They both found

Paul Ricoeur is perhaps one of the most distinguished

the emphasis of mathematical-logical analysis of lan-

philosophers of our time. He was extensively involved

guage to be wrong decision. In a hermeneutical sense,

in negotiating wide range of issues, but from our per-

statements can never be detached from its motivating

spective the most important is the one that deals with

correlation, from speaking where statements only have

the nature of textuality. Because of his contribution

meaning. In this experience of being, the order of enti-

Ricoeur is often recognized as a philosopher who made

ties articulated linguistically are not correspondent to

action intelligible and the proper object of the social

the logically derived order of essence fixed by sub-


stance-accidence relation. Predicate logic concerns

understanding as a ready to use instrument, while the

In a famous essay, The Model of the Text: Meaningful

dialogical structure of hermeneutics takes understand-

Action Considered as a Text21, he elaborates his concep-

ing as participating in meaning, in tradition, in speak-

tion of discourse, of language in use. By formulating


the concept of text Ricoeur has attained transition from

semantics to hermeneutics.22 In the following para-

What might we learn from Gadamer in connection with

graph I will summarize the analysis of B. Dauenhauer

anthropological theory-making?

on Ricoeurs conception on discourse and action.23

Perhaps the most important issue in Gadamers thinking is emphasizing the unsustainability of universal

Regarding the concept of distanciation, four traits of

cognition and the possibility of ending understanding.

discourse, as distinct from language as a system, are of

Based upon the above, he points out that human sci-

central importance for the analogy Ricoeur makes

ences have principally interpretive character and resist

between texts and actions. First, a language system as

the idea of method used in natural sciences. By trans-

conceived by structuralists is simply virtual and hence

forming the happening of tradition into horizon of/for

timeless, but discourse always occurs at some particu-

understanding he grounded in the notion of under-

lar moment of time. Second, a language system is self-

standing the accessibility of reality mediated by lan-

contained, but discourse always refers to persons who

guage. The dialogic structure of understanding pro-

say or write or hear or read. Third, though a language

vides the whole terrain of language not just what is

system is a necessary condition for communication

inasmuch as it provides the codes for communication,
it itself does not communicate. Only discourse communicates among interlocutors. And fourth, the signs in a
language system refer only to other signs in it, but discourse refers to a world that it claims to describe, to
express, or to represent.24
Action is analogous to discourse because, to make full

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teria, such as comprehensiveness, for determining

which interpretation is more likely. Sometimes,
though, more than one interpretation will satisfy the
criteria equally well. But some interpretations have little or no likelihood. If it is true that there is always
more than one way of construing a text, it is not true

25 Ricoeur 1981: 212

26 Ricoeur 1981: 190

sense of any action, one has to recognize that its mean-

that all interpretations are equal. The text is a limited

ing is distinguishable from its occurrence as a particu-

field of possible constructions. The logic of validation

lar spatio-temporal event. Nevertheless, every genuine

allows us to move between the two limits of dogmatism

action is meaningful only because it is some specific

and skepticism. It is always possible to argue against

persons doing at some particular moment.

an interpretation, to confront interpretations, to arbitrate between them and to seek for an agreement, even

To clarify the analogy between discourse and action,

if this agreement remains beyond our reach.26

Ricoeur draws on speech act theory. It follows from the

analogies between discourse and action that all action

What holds good for the interpretation of discourse

is in principle interaction just as all discourse is in

holds good also for the interpretation of action. Each

principle dialogical. Because of this similarity, action,

discourse and action is, of course, an event that occurs

like discourse, is inherently subject to interpretation.

at a particular place and time. Accordingly, besides

Like discourse, actions are open worlds whose mean-

interpreting it, one ought also to seek for a causal

ings are not fully determined by their performers and

explanation of its occurrence. Only an account that

their immediate audiences. As the study of history

provides both a causal explanation and an interpreta-

shows, there are two main ways that a past action

tion of its meaning that enjoys probability does justice

remains open to interpretation. One can reasonably

to the action or discourse.

investigate what it meant to those who knew about it

when it occurred. And one can also ask how those who
came later understood and assessed it. Furthermore,

Anthropological relevance

we interpret the whole of a discourse or text, whether

spoken or written, in the light of its several parts and
a particular part in the light of the whole. Similarly,

The significance of Ricoeurs contribution can be recog-

we interpret a complex of actions, for example, a war,

nized by formulating the widened concept of text. To

in the light of the particular actions of its participants

expand the reality of textuality to the terrain of action

and vice versa.

provides the opportunity for Geertz to work out the

concept of thick description. The characteristic of tex-

All interpretative activity proceeds by way of a dialec-

tuality propounded by Ricoeur liberates the temporal

tic between guessing and validating. We make a guess

act from its situated determinants, thus creating a

about the meaning of a part and check it against the

broadened horizon for the interpreter, such as anthro-

whole and vice versa. Also we guess about the relative

pologists on the field.

importance of the several parts. Throughout the

process of guess and validation, there is no definitive
outcome. It is always possible reasonably to relate sen-

Conclusions on Geertzs theory

tences, or actions, to one another in more than one

way. To validate an interpretation is not to verify it
empirically. One validates an interpretation by vindi-

Finally, I would like to present four main aspects of

cating it against competing interpretations. Thus vali-

the Geertzian cultural reality in which the above inves-

dation is an argumentative discipline comparable to

tigated philosophical hermeneutical concepts had

the judicial procedures of legal interpretation. It is a

mainly implicit but direct influence.

logic of uncertainty and qualitative probability.25

Through the conflict of interpretations one can find cri-

The view of man as a symbolizing, conceptualizing,

meaning-seeking animal, which has become increasingly popular both in social sciences and in philosophy
over the past several years opens up a whole new
approach27 summarizes Geertz. But as we have seen
previously the roots of this concept can be found anteri-

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Culture is public because meaning is29 asserts Geertz

in his famous paper on Thick Description. Besides
attributing of meaning, understanding is an intersubjective, public act. So the locus of meanings is in the
commonly created publicity.
What [] prevents [] us [] from grasping what people are up to is not ignorance as to how cognition
orly. In Heideggers thought human being appears as a

works [ but] as a lack of familiarity with the imagina-

world-forming (weltbildend) entity. The word world

tive universe within which their acts are signs.30 It

has at least two meanings in this context: the world as

sounds like Gadamer consideration about the happen-

correlation of meanings, and at the same time an

ing of tradition which serves as horizon of/for under-

admittance to how the things can reveal themselves.

standing, thus provides us with the possibility to find

So the world is not simply existing, but is happening,

our ways around.

being produced, happening and is given for us linguistically. Additionally, according to Geertz the drive to

The society as text is an opened reality at the same

make sense out of experience, to give it form and order,

time. The logical variability of possibilities of interpre-

is evidently as real and as pressing as the more famil-

tations is actually infinite. However it doesnt mean as


iar biological needs . The institutions of society have

weve seen in Ricoeurs theory that the number and

significant meanings by origin, which are common in

validity of the interpretations are limitless as well.

the whole society. Hence the world is not a bunch of

Both Ricoeur and Geertz exclaim against it. Just as

pure facts, which are grasped by posterior interpreta-

Geertz claims: it is a context, something within which

tions: originally the world is already an interpreted,

they can be intelligibly that is, thickly described.31

meaningful reality. As in Heideggers thought: the

We should realize the similarities with Gadamers con-

more original hermeneutic as enables us to under-

cept again. If the linguisticality of understanding is the

stand an apophantic as prior to reflectivity weve

concretion of historically effected consciousness, thus

already understood the world as something. So the pic-

one have to understand himself as part of the happen-

ture of meaning-seeking animal which uses symbols

ing of tradition, which will determine the opportunities

reminds us Heideggers concept.

of interpretation as well.

This meaningfulness given to us is embodied in sym-

In connection with the above outlined four aspects of

bols and texts. This is why Geertz emphasizes the

Geetzs theory (world is significant by origin; general

importance of textuality and the expand of the concept

social practice of reading phenomenon as text; the pub-

of text. Here has the biggest importance of Ricoeurs

lic character of interpretation; and the openness of

work. As he claims one has to recognize that the mean-

attributing meanings), we can unequivocally assess

ing of an action is distinguishable from its occurrence

that philosophical hermeneutical tradition has great

as a particular spatio-temporal event. If we have the

impact on the interpretative theory in concrete points.

27 Geertz 1975: 140

28 Geertz 1975: 140
29 Geertz 1975: 12
30 Geertz 1975: 13
31 Geertz 1975: 14

opportunity to read this action as a text, we gain not

just situated, but perspective meaning also. The readable text-action is therefore transcends his original
boundaries and opens new world of interpretations for
the social scientist.
Not just attributing meaning, but the meaning-reading
(i.e. understanding) is a social practice for everyday
man stressed Geertz. Reading social institutions,
events is not a privileged chance for an anthropologist,
but normally is a public practice for the members of
the society. Like Heidegger and Gadamer stated:
understanding is not a simple technical instrument
catching the right meaning, but is a mode of existence,
so cannot be avoided.

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1986 Experience and Its Expressions. In V.W. Turner and E.M. Bruner
(eds.). The Anthropology of Experience. University Of Illinois Press.

To sum up the conclusions in a nutshell:

N/A Lectures on Heideggers Being and Time. Electronic document

My purpose was to represent how this things work in

the interpretive theory. Geertz considers reality as a
web of significance, so what we always have to do is
interpreting. During this interpretation we should be
aware of our conditions of the abilities for understanding as Heidegger stated in the concept of hermeneutical situation. The presupposition of giving thick
descriptions (which is the core element of the interpre-


2002 Paul Ricoeur. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. chap. 3.1.

Electronic document

1990 Wahrheit und Methode. Mohr Siebeck GW 1.


1975 The Interpretation of Cultures. London: Hutchinson

tive research) is the ability to transform social actions

into text. It works in the interpretive theory just like
in Ricoeurs philosophy. In the next step we should

2000 Available Lights. Princeton University Press


take into consideration Gadamers conception of under-

1975 Die Grundprobleme der Phnomenologie,

standing mediated by language. When we try to read

Franfurt am Main GA 24.

the texture of the social reality, we will read the mean-

1997 Phnomenologische Interpretation zu Aristoteles. Budapest-

ings which have been attached by the participants of


this reality. If we have the opportunity to read it as a

text (so as language) we must be aware of the back-


2003 Hans-Georg Gadamer In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

ground working of the history of tradition which deter-

chap. 4. Electronic document

mines our and their understanding as well. According

to Gadamer word and thing stand together in a myste-


rious way, so if we can understand the text, the lan-

1981 Hermeneutics and the human sciences. In Essays on language,

guage properly, we could grasp the thing itself. In this

action and interpretation. J.B. Thompson (ed. and transl.). Cambridge

way, we would find ourselves in a wide field of oppor-

University Press

tunities to making thick descriptions without missing

the social phenomenon itself.


1982 Geertz and Culture. In American Ethnologist 9/1. Feb.


1985 Pihilosophy And The Human Sciences. Cambridge University


1989 Is Culture to Us What Text is to Anthropology? In The German

Quarterly 62/2.

1981 Critical Hermeneutics. Cambridge University Press


1986 Dewey, Dilthey and Drama: An Essay in the Anthropology of

Experience. In V.W. Turner and E.M. Bruner (eds.). Pp. 33-44.

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