Thick Description

James Peacock

  • Negara: The Theatre State in 19th-Century Bali by Clifford Geertz
    Princeton, 297 pp, £13.10, December 1980, ISBN 0 691 05316 2

Anthropology must say more than it tells. Ethnography, at any rate, must do so. The archaeologist and the physical anthropologist make news by digging up the dead, for our Darwinian world-view permits us to greet old bones as Missing Links, or old stones as Lost Cities. The living, merely described, attract little interest unless they happen to be ourselves. To be heard or read, the ethnographic description of out-of-the-way behaviours must imply. Clifford Geertz once said, concerning the particularised, exotically localised microscopic reports of ethnographers: ‘small facts’ must be made to ‘speak to large issues’.

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