Clifford Geertz's "Thick Description" explained summary One of the key terms in Clifford Geertz's anthropological theory is that of "Thick Description". Following Ryle, Geertz holds that anthropology's task is that of explaining cultures through thick description which specifies many details, conceptual structures and meanings, and which is opposed to "thin description" which is a factual account without any interpretation. Thin description for Geertz is not only an insufficient account of an aspect of a culture; it is also a misleading one. According to Geertz an ethnographer must present a thick description which is composed not only of facts but also of commentary, interpretation and interpretations of those comments and interpretations.
What Geertz was saying is that anthropological writing is fiction in the sense that they are made and fashioned but they are not false. Geertz described the practice of thick description as a way of providing cultural context and meaning that people place on actions, words, things, etc.
Thick descriptions provide enough context so that a person outside the culture can make meaning of the behavior.
Thin description by contrast, is stating facts without such meaning or significance. Surveys provide thin descriptions at best.
We are suggesting that thick descriptions can be useful to people within an organization in order to better understand themselves and the complexity of organizational life. They can then see their own culture in the subtle ways that cannot be exposed by surveys and sound bites alone.
Like Geertz, we see our role as exposing the social ground and import of social structures yet we tend to do it in a different way than was available to Geertz. Rather than the researcher being the only one who sniffs out the trail of signification, we engage the people themselves in making sense of their own sensemaking by indicating the significance of the stories they tell.
But this second layer of data signifiers alone does not create a thick enough description. It is through sorting the stories by what they mean and seeing groups, patterns and even holes in groups the things we can do with SenseMaker that we are able to provide another layer of interpretation and thicken the description of what a culture is doing.
We help turn participants in the system to self-anthropologists, sorting our their own signification, social ground, and import. We are exploring ways in which we can make the description even thicker. One idea my colleague Joan Goppelt came up with is to create stories from the stories.
We are beginning to write semi-fictional accounts of actions and interactions that describe the patterns emerging from the data. They mirror cultural patterns and should be seen as plausible and probable events to those in the culture.
These stories will be more than merely changing the names to protect the innocent but less than pure creative fantasy. Fiction writers those that write for our entertainment create plausible and often improbable stories.
They are out of the ordinary, which makes them interesting. Lencioni wants a story that is applicable to many and to create a best-seller.
We want to create something that only makes sense in a certain cultural context and so shows not just the typical but also the unusual. Has anyone else tried this approach in organizations and if so, what was your experience?
The interpretation of cultures:Geertz's "thick description" approach has become increasingly recognized as a method of symbolic anthropology, enlisted as a working antidote to overly technocratic, mechanistic means of understanding cultures, organizations, and historical settings.
Geertz described the practice of thick description as a way of providing cultural context and meaning that people place on actions, words, things, etc.
Thick descriptions provide enough context so that a person outside the culture can make meaning of the behavior. The thick and thin of it Clifford Geertz, the cultural anthropologist who influenced the practice of symbolic anthropology, wrote “analysis, then, is sorting out the structures of signification and determining their social ground and import.” (Geertz, , p.
Clifford Geertz - Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture.
SocioSite Sociologists Subjects Search Donate CyberSociology taking thin descriptions for thick, to identify winking with eyelid contractions or sheep raiding with chasing woolly animals out of pastures.
It is for this reason, among others, that the essay. Clifford Geertz - Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture.
SocioSite Sociologists Subjects Search Donate “thick description. It is for this reason, among others, that the essay, whether of thirty pages or three hundred, has seemed the natural genre in which to present cultural interpretations and the theories.
Geertz’s ideas of thick description have allowed historians like David Sabean to explore witchcraft in seventeenth century Germany. Despite criticisms by anthropologists of the diachronic approach taken by historians in the past, many historians are still attached to the ideas of history in transformation.