"Suppose," Clifford Geertz suggests, "having entangled yourself every now and again over four decades or so in the goings-on in two provincial towns, one a Southeast Asian bend in the road, one a North African outpost and passage point, you wished to say something about how those goings-on had changed." A narrative presents itself, a tour of indices and trends, perhaps a memoir? None, however, will suffice, because in forty years more has changed than those two towns--the anthropologist, for instance, anthropology itself, even the intellectual and moral world in which the discipline exists. And so, in looking back on four decades of anthropology in the field, Geertz has created a work that is characteristically unclassifiable, a personal history that is also a retrospective reflection on developments in the human sciences amid political, social, and cultural changes in the world. An elegant summation of one of the most remarkable careers in anthropology, it is at the same time an eloquent statement of the purposes and possibilities of anthropology's interpretive powers.
To view his two towns in time, Pare in Indonesia and Sefrou in Morocco, Geertz adopts various perspectives on anthropological research and analysis during the post-colonial period, the Cold War, and the emergence of the new states of Asia and Africa. Throughout, he clarifies his own position on a broad series of issues at once empirical, methodological, theoretical, and personal. The result is a truly original book, one that displays a particular way of practicing the human sciences and thus a particular--and particularly efficacious--view of what these sciences are, have been, and should become.
Sefrou, a Moroccan town nestled at the foot of the Middle Atlas Mountains, was an enchanted oasis where Berbers, Arabs, Jews and French settlers coexisted, when cultural anthropologist Geertz first went there in 1963. But by 1986, the French and Jews had left, and the population, which had tripled, was deeply divided between old-timers and recent immigrants, mostly Berbers. The other focal point of this affecting scholarly memoir, Pare, Indonesia, a town in central Java where Geertz has done fieldwork since 1952, was wracked by internecine combat among Islamic, nationalist and Communist parties until the army imposed military rule in 1965. Today, status-ridden ideas of right and propriety dominate daily life as Pare's inhabitants attempt to reconcile group diversity with ideals of national unity. Using his fieldwork in these towns as a prism, Princeton anthropologist Geertz charts the transformation of cultural anthropology from a study of "primitive" people to a multidisciplinary investigation of a particular culture's symbolic systems, its interactions with the larger forces of history and modernization.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Harvard University Press
September 30, 1996
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