Clifford Geertz and the Human Sciences

October 19 ~ October 21, 2007


The late Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) is now recognized as a true giant of social and cultural theory. He has had a profound impact on the human sciences, influencing both theory and method across a raft of disciplines from anthropology, to history, sociology, religious studies, cultural studies and area studies. Geertz is synonymous with a range of concepts and images: the cockfight, the wink, thick description, webs of meaning…the list could go on. This density of automatic reference and instantaneous recognition is found only very rarely and with the most influential thinkers. One sees it with Marx and Weber for example. Geertz’s masterwork The Interpretation of Cultures is routinely cited in lists of the most influential social science books of the past half century. A look at the social science citation index shows some six thousand citations to this book alone book. Geertz has been translated into twenty languages. The fact is that Geertz is now seen as the emblematic figure for interpretative inquiry. By the time of his death he had become an iconic intellectual within the pantheon of the ‘cultural turn’ that has dominated the humanities and human sciences. Whether he is revered or reviled, all those involved in cultural research have to be familiar with his work, just as all psychoanalytic thinkers must deal with Freud, all critical theory with Marx, all structuralism with Saussure.

Our forthcoming conference on Clifford Geertz and the Human Sciences provides an opportunity to evaluate this legacy. With an international and interdisciplinary panel of distinguished presenters it will offer probably the first systematic and critical overview of his legacy as this has influenced thinking throughout the humanities and social sciences. The speakers are all appreciative but also mindful of the gaps, contradictions and unintended consequences of Geertz’s oeuvre. The result will be a telling engagement, one that respects Geertz by trying to move forward. The conference grapples with the fundamental questions of theory, method, writing and interpretation that he so brilliantly and controversially reworked, opening up new avenues for scholarship into this century.


The conference will be held at The Whitney Humanities Center, Room 208 and
The New Haven Lawn Club

Hotel Information

The New Haven Hotel


Time Friday, October 19 ~ Whitney Humanities Center
Noon ~ 2:00 Registration and Lunch
2:00 ~ 2:30

Clifford Geertz and the Human Sciences

Jeffrey Alexander (Yale University)

2:30 ~ 5:15 Session I:
Geertz in the Human Sciences

Chair: Jason Mast

Geertz’s Legacy Beyond the Modes of Cultural Anaylsis of His Time

George Marcus (University of California, Irvine)
Commentator: Ryan Sayre

3:15 ~ 3:30 Coffee Break

Thick Description, Thin History: Have Historians Really Understood Geertz?

Stuart Clark (University of Wales, Swansea)
Commentator: Samuel Nelson

‘To locate in the tenor of their settings the sources of the spell’ Clifford Geertz and the ‘strong’ program for cultural sociology

Mats Trondman (Växjö University)
Commentator: Rui Gao

5:00 ~ 5:15 Follow-up questions
5:15 ~ 7:00 Reception at the Whitney Humanities Center
7:30 Dinner for speakers at Zinc Restaurant
Time Saturday, October 20 ~ Whitney Humanities Center
9:00 ~ 10:00 Coffee and Registration
10:00 ~ 12:30 Session II:
Structuralism, Hermeneutics, Geertz

Chair: Nadya Jaworsky

Semiotics and Thick Description (Barthes and Geertz)

Peter Brooks (Yale University)
Commentator: Andrew Junker

The Cockfight Revisited: Reflections on Structuralism and Hermeneutics

Philip Smith (Yale University)
Commentator: Dominik Bartmanski

11:30 ~ 11:45 Coffee Break

Scientific Cultures

Peter Galison (Harvard University)
Commentator: Inge Schmidt

12:15 ~ 12:30 Follow-up questions
12:30 ~ 2:15 Lunch at the Whitney Humanities Center
2:15 ~ 2:45 Session III:
Geertz, Style, Method ~ Part One

Chair: Andrew Junker

‘Malarial and Diffident’: The Vision of Clifford Geertz

Robin Wagner Pacifici (Swarthmore College)
Commentator: Michael Yarbrough

On Minimal and Maximal Interpretation

Isaac Reed (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Commentator: Jesse Einhorn

3:45 ~ 4:00 Coffee Break

Geertzian Irony

Georgia Warnke (University of California, Riverside)
Commentator: Ates Altinordu

4:45 ~ 5:00 Follow-up questions
6:00 Conference Banquet at Bentara Restaurant

Clifford Geertz as a Cultural System

David Apter (Yale University)

Time Sunday, October 21 ~ New Haven Lawn Club
9:15 ~ 9:45 Coffee and Registration
9:45 ~ 12:30 Session IV:
Geertz, Style, Method ~ Part Two
Chair: Lisa McCormick

Negara — The Performative Production of Political Authority

Bernhard Giesen (Konstanz University)
Commentator: Nadya Jaworsky

Thick Description as Cosmopolitan Citizenship

Paul Lichterman (University of Southern California)
Commentator: Carrie Gray

11:15 ~ 11:30 Coffee Break

Animated Language at the Interpretive Turn

J. Joseph Errington (Yale University)
Commentator: Sarah Egan

12:15 ~ 12:45 Final Thoughts — Open Discussion
12:45 ~ 2:00 Concluding Luncheon, New Haven Lawn Club