Clifford Geertz

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Clifford James Geertz (August 23, 1926 – October 30, 2006)


Was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology, and who was considered "for three decades...the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States."[1] He served until his death as professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced StudyPrinceton.




Clifford Geertz was born in San Francisco, California on August 23, 1926. After service in the U.S. Navy in World War II (1943–45), Geertz received his B.A. in philosophy from Antioch College in 1950. After graduating from Antioch he attended Harvard University from which he graduated in 1956, where he was a student in the Department of Social Relations. This interdisciplinary program was led byTalcott Parsons, and Geertz worked with both Parsons and Clyde Kluckhohn. Geertz was basically trained as an anthropologist, and conducted his first long-term fieldwork, together with his wife, Hildred, in Java, which was funded by the Ford Foundation and MIT. He studied the religious life of a small, upcountry town for 2.5 years, living with a railroad labourer's family.[2] After finishing his thesis, Geertz returned to Bali and Sumatra.[3] He earned his Ph.D. in 1956 with a dissertation entitled Religion in Modjukuto: A Study of Ritual Belief In A Complex Society.

He taught or held fellowships at a number of schools before joining the faculty of the anthropology department at the University of Chicago in 1960. In this period Geertz expanded his focus on Indonesia to include both Java and Bali produced three books, includingReligion of Java (1960), Agricultural Involution (1963), and Peddlers and Princes (also 1963). In the mid-sixties Geertz shifted course and began a new research project in Morocco which resulted in several publications, including Islam Observed (1968), which compared Indonesia and Morocco.

In 1970 Geertz left Chicago to become professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey from 1970 to 2000, then emeritus professor. In 1973 he published The Interpretation of Cultures, which collected essays Geertz had published throughout the 1960s. This became Geertz's best known book, and established him not just as an Indonesianist, but as an anthropological theorist. In 1974 he edited the anthology Myth, Symbol, Culture which contained papers by many important anthropologists on symbolic anthropology. Geertz produced ethnographic pieces in this period, such as Kinship in Bali (1975), Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (1978, written collaboratively with Hildred Geertz and Lawrence Rosen) and Negara (1981).

From the 1980s until his death, Geertz wrote more theoretical and essayistic pieces, including book reviews for the New York Review of Books. As a result most of his books from this period are collections of essays, including Local Knowledge (1983), Available Light(2000) and Life Among The Anthros (published posthumously in 2010). He also produced the autobiographical After The Fact (1995) and Works and Lives (1988), a series of short essays on the stylistics of ethnography.

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