What is the Meaning of Thick Descriptions?

The Meaning

History

The term "thick descriptions" was coined by Anthropologist Clifford Geertz.  According to Geertz "the core of culture is a set of integrated moral values that preserve the correspondence of the world 'as it is' with the world 'as it should be' and that lived experiences are integrated in a coherent, public system of symbols that both renders the world intelligible and seems uniquely suited to do so" (thank you Paul Erickson and Liam Murphy).  In simpler terms, the world is filled with symbols which makes trying to understand the world confusing.  Make sense?

So to help make the world less confusing, Dr. Geertz developed a way to look at the world with a technique called thick descriptions.  He did this in response to previous methods that looked at cultures/groups/communities from a one-sided perspective called "arm chair anthropology".  For him, thick descriptions means "identifying the fine details of human life that make behavior understandable" (thank you again Erickson and Murphy).  We want you to pay attention that his focus was behavior; remember this word when reading below.  If you want to understand more about Clifford Geertz and his ground-breaking method (yes, it was ground-breaking during the 1970's) read The Interpretations of Cultures (1973). 

Late 20th Century

Valuable and necessary shifts began during the 1980's.  The world saw another infusion of civil unrest due to the inhumane treatment of people.  Basic needs such as clothing, food and shelter were not met and unfortunately each is still a problem. Each problem is documented through music, literature, movies, food, housing, policy and so many other systems and influences.  Anthropologists realized that giving attention to human behavior was a "drop in the bucket" to understanding human culture and chose to incorporate more nuanced perspectives and understandings of human thought/action/behavior and so on.  Several anthropological (yeah, say that five-times fast; its a tongue twister) methods were developed in an attempt to explain human behavior yet none held the value and power of Dr. Geertz's thick descriptions.  Thank you Clifford Geertz!

 


So welcome to Thick Descriptions.

Let the journeys begin!

 

 

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