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The Sense of the Self

Galen Strawson, 18 April 1996

... within a given culture. The cultural relativism of Emile Durkheim and others, elegantly renewed by Clifford Geertz and orthodox in large parts of the academic community is based on a serious underestimation of the genetic determinants of human nature, and a false view of mental development. It’s partly for this reason, and partly because I have a ...


Edmund Leach, 2 August 1984

Nomads and the Outside World 
by A.M. Khazanov, translated by Julia Crookenden.
Cambridge, 369 pp., £37.50, February 1984, 0 521 23813 7
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The House of Si Abd Allah: The Oral History of a Moroccan Family 
edited by Henry Munson.
Yale, 320 pp., £17.95, April 1984, 0 300 03084 3
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Ruth Benedict: Patterns of a Life 
by Judith Modell.
Chatto, 255 pp., £15, February 1984, 0 7011 2771 6
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... discussions of Islam in modern Morocco have been indebted to the antithetical views of Clifford Geertz in Islam Observed (1968) and Ernest Gellner in Saints of the Atlas (1969). Geertz perceives Islam as a system of cultural symbols and is concerned to show us how individual Muslims think and feel about ...

Culture and Personality

Caroline Humphrey, 31 August 1989

Margaret Mead: A Life of Controversy 
by Phyllis Grosskurth.
Penguin, 96 pp., £3.99, May 1989, 0 14 008760 5
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Ruth Benedict: Stranger in the Land 
by Margaret Caffrey.
Texas, 432 pp., $24.95, February 1989, 0 292 74655 5
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... it when she was four and passages about new ways of rearing little boys and girls were underlined. Clifford Geertz puzzled as to why the courtly and sensitive Benedict should have bothered at all with ‘the trappings of activist social science’. Caffrey’s biography gives a psychological answer. Benedict even as a child had a huge anger. Her ...

Devouring the pangolin

John Sutherland, 25 October 1990

The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History 
by Robert Darnton.
Faber, 393 pp., £25, September 1990, 0 571 14423 3
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... Darnton found the solution in the classroom. At Princeton for six years he co-taught a course with Clifford Geertz, ‘Anthropology and History’. Out of this experience came his next book, The Great Cat Massacre (1984). This, too, was a collection of essays, less coherent in content than its predecessor, but more confident in tone and method. Darnton ...


Peter Burke, 19 November 1981

The Building of Renaissance Florence: An Economic and Social History 
by Richard Goldthwaite.
Johns Hopkins, 459 pp., £16.50, April 1981, 0 8018 2342 0
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Public Life in Renaissance Florence 
by Richard Trexler.
Academic Press, 591 pp., £29.80, March 1981, 0 12 699550 8
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Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice 
by Edward Muir.
Princeton, 356 pp., £10.80, August 1981, 0 691 05325 1
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Venice: The Greatness and the Fall 
by John Julius Norwich.
Allen Lane, 400 pp., £12, September 1981, 0 7139 1409 2
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Ruskin and Venice 
edited by Jeanne Clegg.
Junction, 233 pp., £10.50, September 1981, 0 86245 019 5
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The Stones of Venice 
by John Ruskin and Jan Morris.
Faber, 239 pp., £12.50, September 1981, 0 571 11815 1
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... he has been inspired by the approach to ritual of such anthropologists as Victor Turner and Clifford Geertz, and in any case he knows Trexler’s work. He, too, is interested in the Kremlinologists’ questions: ‘How far out in the lagoon must the senators (and how many senators) go to greet an arriving guest? Should the doge take off his ...

The View from the Top

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Upland Anarchists, 2 December 2010

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland South-East Asia 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 442 pp., £16.99, January 2011, 978 0 300 16917 1
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... life there. Three quite different figures in the Western academy can claim the credit for this: Clifford Geertz, Benedict Anderson and James C. Scott. Geertz, one of whose many talents was for the writing of superbly perfidious book reviews, was the master of the catchy phrase: he gave us ‘theatre ...

Touches of the Real

David Simpson: Stephen Greenblatt, 24 May 2001

Practising New Historicism 
by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt.
Chicago, 249 pp., £17.50, June 2000, 0 226 27934 0
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... of origins is rehearsed, and debts acknowledged to some of the familiar fellow spirits, like Clifford Geertz and Michel Foucault. There is also Raymond Williams, to be heard most obviously in Greenblatt’s predilection for ‘lived experience’, and E.P. Thompson, whose determination to remember the overlooked figures of the past is affirmed ...

Frameworks of Comparison

Benedict Anderson, 21 January 2016

... context of Java and Indonesia. Not long before there had been a heated debate in Encounter between Clifford Geertz and the Swiss journalist Herbert Lüthy. It took place between late 1965 and early 1966, when communists and their sympathisers were being massacred in Indonesia after the attempted coup of 1965. Lüthy had started it by writing an essay on ...

A Gentle Deconstruction

Mary Douglas, 4 May 1989

The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia 
by Marilyn Strathern.
California, 422 pp., $40, December 1988, 0 520 06423 2
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... commentary, and their letters and diaries. An interesting comment on the current vein by Clifford Geertz* demonstrates why writing whose first aim is to explore consciousness is unsuited for sending messages. Marilyn Strathern actually has got something she wishes to communicate, but she also wishes to write a Post-Modern book. This presents a ...

The Impostor

Peter Burke, 19 April 1984

Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... the crowd, studying small communities or even ordinary individuals, and practising what Professor Clifford Geertz – also of Princeton – has called the ‘thick description’ of everyday events, using them to reveal the values and structures of the society. This procedure, too, has its dangers and it is to be hoped that it will not be reduced to a ...

Albino Sea-Cucumber

Glen Newey: The Long March of Cornelius Castoriadis, 5 February 1998

The Imaginary Institution of Society 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Polity, 418 pp., £14.95, May 1997, 0 7456 1950 9
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Les Carrefours de Labyrinthe: Fait et a faire 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Seuil, 281 pp., frs 139, February 1997, 2 02 029909 7
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The Castoriadis Reader 
edited by David Ames Curtis.
Blackwell, 470 pp., £50, May 1997, 1 55786 703 8
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... in an arch, snowstorm-paperweight-collecting kind of way – if not downright völkisch. And, as Clifford Geertz has noted, the wogs start long before Calais. Castoriadis, it should be said, never succumbed to this infarctus. He used to insist: ‘quoi qu’il arrive, je resterai d’abord et avant tout un révolutionnaire.’ His writings display a ...

Adrift from Locality

James Davidson: Captain Cook’s Mistake, 3 November 2005

Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa 
by Marshall Sahlins.
Chicago, 334 pp., £21, December 2004, 0 226 73400 5
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... For students of the human sciences, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins is, with Clifford Geertz, one of the few Americans who has achieved the status of a name to conjure with alongside the French maîtres à penser, particularly when the conversation turns to the topics of ‘Big Men’ (power-brokers who aren’t chiefs, masters of the games of speech and generosity), or the socially embedded economy of premodern societies, ‘negative reciprocity’ (exchange characterised by hard bargaining, predation or theft), the cultural apperception of colour, or why Americans don’t eat dogs ...

To kill a cat

Anthony Pagden, 21 February 1985

Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part One: I Grandi Staii dell’Occidente 
by Franco Venturi.
Einaudi, 463 pp., lire 45,000, July 1984, 88 06 05695 6
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Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part Two: II Patriotismo Repubblicano e gli Imperi dell’Est 
by Franco Venturi.
Einaudi, 1040 pp., lire 55,000, July 1984, 88 06 05696 4
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The Great Cat Massacre, and Other Episodes in French Cultural History 
by Robert Darnton.
Viking, 284 pp., £14.95, July 1984, 0 7139 1728 8
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Rousseau, Dreamer of Democracy 
by James Miller.
Yale, 272 pp., £25, July 1984, 0 300 03044 4
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... culture have borrowed freely, especially from Victor Turner and Darnton’s acknowledged mentor, Clifford Geertz, whose principal concern has been with culture as a system of meanings, as, in Geertz’s phrase, an ‘acted document’. But the historian faces problems the anthropologist does not. His material is ...


Peter Campbell, 4 August 1988

Who got Einstein’s office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study 
by Ed Regis.
Simon and Schuster, 316 pp., £12.95, April 1988, 0 671 69923 7
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by James Gleick.
Heinemann, 354 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 9780434295548
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The School of Genius 
by Anthony Storr.
Deutsch, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 233 98010 5
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... talk to Gödel about the incompleteness theorem and he talks to me about the religions of Java,’ Clifford Geertz told Regis. The Institute is also a place to study the nature of originality and what nurtures it. The old men of the Institute can look back thirty, forty and fifty years. To have got there they have to have done at least ‘two important ...

Making It Up

Raphael Samuel, 4 July 1996

Raymond Williams 
by Fred Inglis.
Routledge, 333 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 415 08960 3
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... as a succession of intellectual crushes (‘The great John Keane’ seems to be his latest pin-up; Clifford Geertz, fulsomely acknowledged in the preface to his 1993 Cultural Studies, a slightly earlier one). Inglis’s Radical Earnestness (1982), a truly dreadful book, is a kind of Boy’s Own guide to English social theory which resolves itself into a ...

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