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According to many anthropologists, Clifford Geertz's impact on discipline has been profound, being referred to by many as the 'father of anthropology'. As Geertz's research is mainly synchronic and historians work is mainly diachronic the real question is how compatible is the two modes of investigative thought?
However are historians purely diachronic or do they need to have an understanding of both synchronic and diachronic history?
In order to understand both we must look at both methods in some detail in order to compare them.
Geertz has the benefit of viewing his research 'in the field' while historians are impeded by historical documents written by a male literate elite for their own audience.
Another thing we must consider is Geertz's inability to view 'change over time' hindrance to his own research.
Geertz has become an 'ambassador of anthropology'
Geertz took over the ambassadorship from Benedict, and Geertz has become influential in many other disciplines as well as his own.
'...the supposed impact of Anthropology, the Science, upon History, the Discipline.' (321)
Historians believe that anthropologists 'present static pictures of immobile societies scattered across the remote corners of the inhabited world' (321) and anthropologists of historians, and-then-and-then-and-then stories (321)
'Big and Little' (321): Historians focus on broad sweeping actions and movements, while anthropologists focus on 'small, well bounded communities... wallowing in the detail of the obscure and unimportant'(321)
'Or perhaps it is about High and Low, Dead and Living, Written and Oral, Particular and General, Description and Explanation, or Art and Science' (322)
History (it is said), is threatened by the history-from-below rather than focussing on the Movers-and-Shakers, such as Kings, Philosophers and Bishops (322)
Outline of what I am going to look at in the essay.
'Marc Bloch wrote that the "good historian is like the giant in the fairy tale. He know that wherever he catches the scent of human flesh, there his quarry lies" (Bloch, p26). The good anthropologist is likewise a cannibal. "What social science is properly about" urged Wright-Mills, "is human variety, which consists of all the social world in which men have lived, are living and might live" (Wright-Mills p.147).
Geertz Theory (600 words)
Historians embrace Geertz, using his ideas and methods and applying them to historical models (Roger Beck's 'The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun'). Although historians are not as prone to theoretical disputes as much as anthropologists, it is also true that Geertz does not serve as a marker in generalised struggles among historians. The history profession has never had many convincing positivists or many postmodernists. Strange that some version of the materialist critique of Geertz has not been embraced by more historians. CONDRADICTORY?
A synchronic analysis of culture is often seen as a 'snapshot' that 'freezes' time, although this can be argued to be incorrect. Rather, it is when time is suspended or abolished analytically, so that things that can be traced over time are treated as part of a uniformed moment so they can be analysed. As 'synoptic' is that all views are present in a single glace, so 'synchronic' means that different times are present in a continuous movement. i.e.' in synchronic description are acts of cultural signification, rather than being treated as a temporal sequence of statement and counterstatement/ antecedent and consequence.' (EXAMPLES) (Look at Azoncourt Stuff)
The anthropological revelation opened up to historians by Geertz's method was 'essentially synchronic in character.' 'To portray an ensemble of symbols and the practices mutually sustain each other as an integrated whole. (Example of Geertz's study on religion AND Robert Darnton's 'The Great Cat Massacre' )'Religions, in short, seek to harmonize a people's conceptions of the real with their conceptions of the appropriate way to live.'
Geertz's metaphysical comments are not the problem, it is his methodological practices. 'By treating a cultural performance as a text, Roseberry points out, one fixes it and the subjects it to synchronic gaze, bracketing the question of the processes that produced it in order to work out its internal logic.' Roseberry's view is not purely 'materialism versus idealism' but 'diachrony versus synchrony'. NEEDED?
Uses in historical research (1200 words)
Social historians have been enormously responsive to Geertz work. The question is 'why should so many historians, who are professionally concerned with questions of change over time, be so strongly influenced by an anthropologist whose work is insistently synchronic? (EXAMPLE OF A SOCIAL HISTORIAN)
Historians seem to be susceptible to Geertz as history is built on an analogues seduction. Historians study worlds that are structurally different from this one. '...worlds where people's motives, senses of honour, daily tasks, and political calculations are based on unfamiliar assumptions about human society and the cosmic order.' [SEE ARTICLE FOR EXAMPLES] 'A companion to Anglo-Saxon literature' - see notes
'Our world is contingent rather than necessary; that there exist forms of life radically different from ours that are nonetheless fully human, and that, consequently, our own future is potentially more open than we usually imagine.' Geertz keeps alive the 'revelation of anthropology'. (EXAMPLE OF GEETZ BEING DIRECTLY USED BY A HISTORIAN)
Thick description can enable historians to suspend time more effectively - 'and consequently to portray past life worlds and their transformations with greater clarity, complexity, or depth' (EXAMPLE OF HOW THIS HAS BEEN USED BY HIISTORIANS)
Both anthropology and history, according to Geertz, are both the similar and different, both looking for the same type of answers but asking different questions (324)
Not unusual for historians and anthropologists to write book in the other's field EXAMPLES: The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy by Peter Burke, Europe and the People Without History by Eric R. Wolf, Primitive Rebels by E. J. Hobsbawn (324)
Historians are restricted to textual evidence written by a literate elite, Geertz's theory suggests that culture but 'embodied in publically available symbols' rather than lost in the minds of those who lived through it. Symbolic forms through which the dead experienced their world are available to us in surviving documents. 'It [Geertz's theory] powerfully authorised the use of anthropological methods in studies of past societies.' (EXAMPLE OF THE PROBLEM)
Anthropologists complain that historians reliance on written documents means they are subject to 'elitist accounts and literary conventionalism' (322), while historians are critical of anthropologists for their reliance on oral testimony with possible 'invented tradition and the frailties of memory' (322)
The term 'historical' means two things. One, from its root 'history' i.e. happenings taking over time. Second, historical implies 'in the past', something standing at a distance from the present, and in that way historical can be seen in a synchronic fashion
'history as temporal context' (or block of time, and its changes over it) (synchronic) and 'history as transformation' (diachronic) Although historians have to justify both synchronic and diachronic systems in their work in order to show competency, although most historians favour focussing their work on synchronic analysis of a particular period USE EXAMPLES Hundred Year War Stuff AND 'Musica practica: the social practice of Western music from Gregorian chant ...â€Ž - Page 95'
Most historians still care about history in transformation. Hence the American 'new social historians' or the French 'Annales' school try to define themselves against narrative history EXAMPLES OF NEW SOCIAL HISTORY AND ANNALES SCHOOL (see notes)
Some historians attempt to solve - or avoid - a conceptual problem by describing 'what actually happened' A history of the Jewish peopleâ€Ž - Page 112
'It [Geertz's theory] tell us, perhaps surprisingly, that adequately realized synchrony is more important to good historical analysis than adequately realized diachrony. In the eyes of professionals it is more important for a historian to know how to suspend time than to know how to recount its passage.' EXAMPLES 'Japanese discourse markers: synchronic and diachronic discourse analysisâ€Ž - Page 23' AND 'Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation ...â€Ž - Page 255'
'...a historian who wants to take advantage of Geertz's synchronic insights but also wants to investigate cultural transformations must modify Geertz's concepts in practice.'
Virtually none of the social theory developed by anthropologists deal with problems of historical change.
'The overriding problem posed by most social theory has been accounting for social order or structure.' USE OR CRITISISM?
What is needed is a modified version of Geertz's theory that still encompasses his epsomology of ethnographic research and use/ reliance on sychronicism.
Cultural symbols are both 'models of' and models for' reality. 'models for' being as in templates for the production of reality (e.g. the female codes of behaviour) and 'models of' being how the previous models are judged (e.g. female codes of behaviour show the difference between the sexes.) NEEDED?
Application to own research (400 words)
Criticisms (800 words)
Geertz has been attacked by positivists, postmodernists and materialists:
Positivists: Geertz abandoned the scientific values of "predictability, replicability, verifiability, and law-generating capacity" in favour of a more "glamorous" or "alluring" qualities of interpretive method'.
Postmodernists: Geertz doesn't go far enough with his interpretive model and that he does not subject his own ethnographic practice to critical interpretation
Materialists: criticize his neglect of 'history, power and social conflicts. POSSIBLE EXAMPLES
Geertz features events in real historical time, but they are used as a literary device rather than as specific subject matter. Geertz also fails to describe the historical and social impact on the cultural performance that he is analysing. EXAMPLE Moroccan example from Interpretations?
Roseberry argues that Geertz's essay on the Balinese cock fight does not take into account the history of its development (issues he states are mentioned but never taken up by Geertz), and that we should think of the 'material social process' as a 'production' rather than as a 'product'
Geertz never explains why cultural systems determine human behaviour so closely. In Geertz's essay 'The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind', 'Geertz argues that cultural patterning must be understood as an analogue of genetic programming.' (Argues that the mind, a suspiciously idealist concept, has a substantial biological basis in human evolution)
Historians have been less than successful in their attempts tom marry history with anthology (Roger Beck's 'The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun' http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/5299_5579.pdf)