Winks and twitches

Wed, 3 Apr 1996 11:59:14 CST

J. McCreery makes the excellent point that it is often possible to bring
empirical evidence to bear on the question of what a piece of behavior
means (or meant). My criticism that Geertz aimed to insulate meaning
from empirical study was perhaps misguided. I would like to refocus by
suggesting instead that by thinking of behavior as a way to get at
meaning, and meaning as the constituent of culture, we mire ourselves in
the swamp of cultural idealism. I insist that scientific progress is
obstructed by defining culture as a "web of significances," as if it
generated behavior and artifacts but did not consist of them. In sum:
What gripes me is not so much Geertz's non-empiricism, but his
not-too-subtle commitment to idealist explanation. --Bob Graber