Saturday, November 04, 2006

Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

I wanted to mention the recent passing of cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz at age 80. Geertz' s work has also been influential in historiography, largely through the work of his student Robert Darnton. As another French history geek, I have mixed feelings about Darnton. His work on clandestine publishing in France is quite good. His work on Brissot... well, I totally disagree with. But, he's well worth reading.

Geertz is the same way. Many of his conclusions seem, to me, to go a bit far. Balinese cock-fights as their culture's Shakespeare? Sometimes I think he stresses cultural differences in a way that is a bit patronizing. And yet, as frustrating as his works can be, they're also important and liberating in other ways. I think Geertz has been a bit overrated, frankly, but his best works are conceptually daring in a way that is increasingly uncommon in academia.

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