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What is Good Science: Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture

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"Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture" (1994) is an Article by Clifford Geertz that was published in Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science (ISBN 0262631512).


  • author aims to down-size the concept of culture to make it more comprehensible
  • Following Max Weber, culture is the webs of significance one has spun around oneself therefore anthropology is not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning
  • To understand a science you must look at what it’s practitioners do
  • Anthropology:
    • Thin description: what someone is doing
    • Thick description: what it is and why they are doing it. ‘a stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures’
    • Analysis is sorting out these structures of signification
    • constructions of other peoples constructions of what they do
    • A multiplicity of complex conceptual structures knotted into one another.
    • Discovering the importance of certain events.
    • Tracing the curve of social discourse
    • Guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, drawing conclusions from the best guesses.
    • A lot like making a diagnosis. Investigate signifiers and try to put them in an intelligible frame
  • Culture is a context within which social events, behaviors, institutions can be (thickly) described
  • Anthropologists approach broad ideas through exceedingly extended studies of exceedingly small matters. Using small ‘densely textured’ facts to support
  • Though the idea that one can find the essence of a large society in a small village is rubbish
  • The importance of anthropological work is in the specific nature of it -> considers circumstantialities
  • Studies must fit to the past but also realities to come
  • Anthropological study progresses not by a consensus but by a refinement of debate

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