AVAILABLE LIGHT by Clifford Geertz


Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics
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If the proper study of mankind is man, anthropology ought to be the most vital of all sciences. In this collection of essays, reviews, and speeches from the last 20 years, one of the modern giants of that discipline offers his wisdom.

Geertz (After the Fact, 1994) opens with a brief professional autobiography, which for him began with his arrival at Antioch as one of the GI generation. He then passed through Harvard's short-lived but seminal Soc Rel program, doing important fieldwork in Java and Morocco, and finally arrived at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Studies. Along the way, he watched the nominal subject of his discipline alter radically: the few `primitive` cultures still on Earth are busy acquiring transistor radios, and even the notion of `culture` is now open to question. At the same time, anthropology must face ethical questions on the nature of fieldwork. Is any honest relationship possible between a college-educated American and a Javanese subsistence farmer, each seeking in some way to exploit the other? How does an anthropologist come to terms with the legacy of colonialism that lies at the roots of his discipline, and to what extent are his studies in conflict with the aspirations of oppressed people to better their lives? In and around these questions Geertz weaves considerations of issues specific to his discipline, notably the roles of behaviorism, structuralism, and other modern philosophical tools in the interpretation of culture. Geertz stoutly resists the impulse to simplify, and the reader who isn't up-to-date on debates within anthropological circles may occasionally find the line of argument hard to follow. But overall, this is a provocative look at the human race (and the study thereof) by a man who has seen more of it than most.

An occasional muddy patch, but worth wading through for the author's insights.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-691-04974-2
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000