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Thick description

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Title: Thick description  
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Subject: Clifford Geertz, Anthropology, Thematic analysis, Outline of anthropology, Ethnography
Collection: Anthropology, Social Sciences
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Thick description

In anthropology and other fields, a thick description of a human behavior is one that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider.

The term was used by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973) to describe his own method of doing ethnography (Geertz 1973:5-6, 9-10). Since then, the term and the methodology it represents has gained currency in the social sciences and beyond. Today, "thick description" is used in a variety of fields, including the type of literary criticism known as New Historicism.

In his essay "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture" (1973), Geertz explains that he adopted the term from philosopher Gilbert Ryle, specifically his lecture "What is le Penseur doing?"

Adoption

Geertz's "thick description" approach has become increasingly recognized as a method of symbolic anthropology, enlisted as a working antidote to overly technocratic, mechanistic means of understanding cultures, organizations, and historical settings.

Influenced by Gilbert Ryle, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Max Weber, Paul Ricoeur, and Alfred Schutz, the method of descriptive ethnography that came to be associated with Geertz is credited with resuscitating field research from an endeavor of ongoing objectifcation—the focus of research being "out there"—to a more immediate undertaking, where participant observation embeds the researcher in the enactment of the settings being reported.

Geertz is revered for his pioneering field methods and clear, accessible prose writing style. He was considered "for three decades...the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States."[1] He served

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