On Geertz and Generous Readings

John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 4 Aug 1995 17:29:59 +0900

persuasion, used to say, "John, if you can't say something
positive, don't say anything at all." I used to reject her advice,
having learned in school that I could score points by raising the
flag of "critical thought" and destroying the half-baked straw dog
that, more often than not was more a figment of my imagination
than what had actually been said or written by someone I
happened to hear or read. Didn't matter. At school we rarely read
original texts in any depth or learn enough about the contexts in
which they were written to have much constructive to say about
them. The name of the game was "Pecking Order" and attacking
those not present to defend themselves was especially attractive:
a cheap shot that inevitably resulted in a moment of feeling
(however erroneously) one up.

In the the business world I have found Grandmother's advice
quite helpful. Clients rarely buy proposals from people who seem
more interested in telling them where they are wrong than
where, perhaps, some progress might be made.

How, then, does this bear on my own reading of Geertz. Typically
I find that his pieces clear a space in an intellectual thicket. They
plant some ideas but rarely supply the weeding and care needed
to reach a definitive harvest. That's fine by me, because of all the
interesting things it leaves to work out for myself. The piece I
published this year in _American Ethnologist_ was, for example,
the result of several years of thinking about how to do a "thick
description." For the stimulation Geertz provided I am grateful

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS)