Geertz rejects the Enlightenment view of man:
The Enlightenment view of man was, of course, that he was wholly of a piece with nature and shared in the general uniformity of composition which natural science, under Bacon’s urging and Newton’s guidance, had discovered there. There is, in brief, a human nature as regularly organized, as thoroughly invariant, and as marvelously simple as Newton’s universe.
Geertz does not accept this view! Geertz believes, instead that man is completely dependent on his context. Geertz’s anthropology is one much more dynamic, shifting, and dialogic than that of the 19th century.
This article proposes various concepts of note:
- the STRATIGRAPHIC CONCEPTION: “In this conception, man is a composite of ‘levels,’ each superimposed upon those beneath it and underpinning those above it. As one analyzes man, one peels off layer after layer, each such layer being complete and irreducible in itself, revealing another, quite different sort of layer underneath.” (37)
- INVARIANT POINTS OF REFERENCE (41)
- culture as CONTROL MECHANISMS (as opposed to “complexes of concrete behavior patterns”) (44)
All these concepts ultimately point towards Geertz’s prizing of the concept of “culture” as a layer that explains a mutable and diverse “human nature”.
On page 49, Geertz emphasizes that there is no human nature independent of culture. I will end with what seems to me to be a most Geertzian argument, that of the primacy of particularities in explaining humanity:
We must, in short, descend into detail, past the misleading tags, past the metaphysical types, past the empty similarities to grasp firmly the essential character of not only the various cultures but the various sorts of individuals within each culture, if we wish to encounter humanity face to face.