Manual Ethnography through Thick and Thin

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The term was introduced by the 20th-century philosopher Gilbert Ryle.

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Anthropologist Clifford Geertz later developed the concept in his The Interpretation of Cultures to characterise his own method of doing ethnography. 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.

Thick description

Originally, Ryle introduced two types of descriptions: thin and thick. Thin description included surface-level observations of behavior while thick description added context.

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To explain this context required grasping individuals motivations for their behaviors and how these behaviors were understood by other observers of the community as well. This method emerged at a time when the ethnographic school was pushing for an ethnographic approach that paid particular attention to everyday events.


The school of ethnography thought seemingly arbitrary events could convey important notions of understanding that could be lost at a first glance. To Malinsokwi an anthropologist should try to understand the perspectives of ethnographic subjects in relation to their own world. Following Ryle's work, American anthropologist Clifford Geertz was instrumental in the popularization of the concept. Known for his symbolic and interpretative anthropological methods, Geertz's methods were in response to his critique of existing anthropological methods that searched for universal truths and theories.

Because of his beliefs, he was against comprehensive theories of human behavior. While establishing new theoretical methods, he pushed for interpretive methodologies that highlighted culture as a result of how people looked at and experienced life. Thick description differed from past anthropological methodologies in that it emphasized a more analytical approach, whereas previously observation alone was the primary mode of practice.

To Geertz, analysis separated observation from interpretative methodologies. An analysis is meant to pick out the critical structures and established codes. This analysis begins with distinguishing all individuals present and coming to an integrative synthesis that accounts for the actions produced. Geertz takes issue with the state of anthropological practices in understanding culture.

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Please contact Customer Services and request "Return Authorisation" before you send your item back to us. Unauthorised returns will not be accepted. Returns must be postmarked within 4 business days of authorisation and must be in resellable condition. Returns are shipped at the customer's risk. We cannot take responsibility for items which are lost or damaged in transit. Description This is the updated text of George Marcus's critique of cultural anthropology, "Writing Culture".

It contains a series of essays on the changes that continue to sweep across anthropology, examining in particular how the discipline's central practice of ethnography has been changed by "multi-sited" approaches to anthropology. The author rejects the view that these changes undermine anthropology, and argues that the combination of traditional ethnography with scholarly experimentation will only make the discipline more diverse.

The book explores how ethnographic traditons of defining fieldwork in terms of people and place is now being changed, it illustrates the emerging multi-sited condition of research, and examines the evolving professional culture of anthropology and the predicaments of its scholars. It also considers the impact of demographic changes within the discipline and raises issues about the identity of anthropologists in relation to those they study.

Product details Format Hardback pages Dimensions x x Review quote "This is an exceptionally significant contribution both to the field of anthropology and to broader discussions among scholars in a range of culture-focused fields. It is a very thoughtful, quirky, empirically compelling, and provocative work by one of the intellectual leaders in our field.

About George E. Marcus George E.