Cover image for Available light : anthropological reflections on philosophical topics
Available light : anthropological reflections on philosophical topics
Geertz, Clifford.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xvi, 271 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Articles previously published chiefly 1983-1999.
Reading Level:
1600 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN345 .G46 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Clifford Geertz, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, here discusses some of the most urgent issues facing intellectuals today. In this collection of personal and revealing essays, he explores the nature of his anthropological work in relation to a broader public, serving as the foremost spokesperson of his generation of scholars, those who came of age after World War II. His reflections are written in a style that both entertains and disconcerts, as they engage us in topics ranging from moral relativism to the relationship between cultural and psychological differences, from the diversity and tension among activist faiths to "ethnic conflict" in today's politics.

Geertz, who once considered a career in philosophy, begins by explaining how he got swept into the revolutionary movement of symbolic anthropology. At that point, his work began to encompass not only the ethnography of groups in Southeast Asia and North Africa, but also the study of how meaning is made in all cultures--or, to use his phrase, to explore the "frames of meaning" in which people everywhere live out their lives. His philosophical orientation helped him to establish the role of anthropology within broader intellectual circles and led him to address the work of such leading thinkers as Charles Taylor, Thomas Kuhn, William James, and Jerome Bruner. In this volume, Geertz comments on their work as he explores questions in political philosophy, psychology, and religion that have intrigued him throughout his career but that now hold particular relevance in light of postmodernist thinking and multiculturalism. Available Light offers insightful discussions of concepts such as nation, identity, country, and self, with a reminder that like symbols in general, their meanings are not categorically fixed but grow and change through time and place.

This book treats the reader to an analysis of the American intellectual climate by someone who did much to shape it. One can read Available Light both for its revelation of public culture in its dynamic, evolving forms and for the story it tells about the remarkable adventures of an innovator during the "golden years" of American academia.

Author Notes

Clifford Geertz, an American anthropologist, is known for his studies of Islam in Indonesia and Morocco and of the peasant economy of Java. But he is also the leading exponent of an orientation in the social sciences called "interpretation". Social life, according to this view, is organized in terms of symbols whose meaning we must grasp if we are to understand that organization and formulate its principles. Interpretative explanations focus on what institutions, actions, customs, and so on mean to the people involved. What emerges from studies of this kind are not laws of society, and certainly not statistical relationships, but rather interpretations, that is to say, understanding. Geertz taught for 10 years at the University of Chicago and has been the Harold F. Linder professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In cadenced prose, noted anthropologist Geertz examines his own life, education and work and the ways in which the fields of anthropology and philosophy might benefit each other, in a collection of essays reprinted from such journals as the Antioch Review and Common Knowledge. His recollections of the intellectual excitement in post-War World II colleges, filled with people on the brink of a new life and paid for by the G.I. Bill, reveal an intriguing facet of American intellectual history as well as the author's roots as an anthropologist. His now-famous fieldwork in Java in 1952 becomes a point of departure for other intellectual explorations. Geertz can be quite provocative--in discussing the ethical dimensions of anthropology, he concludes that "thought is conduct and is to be morally judged as such." He is also exacting, as when he claims that "anthropologists will simply have to make something of subtler differences, and their writing will grow more shrewd." His most challenging arguments for contemporary thinkers come at the end, when he discusses the impact of postmodernism on various disciplines and whether cohesive identities are possible in our world. Carefully teasing out how the study of cultural "differences" and "similarities" can work--"the trick is to get them to illuminate one another"--Geertz once again makes an important contribution to how we think and live in the world today. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In retrospect, the period following the end of World War II can be identified as the heyday of cultural anthropology. Geertz (Inst. of Advanced Studies) entered the discipline just as it was beginning to flourish. In his distinguished career, he has been prominent in developing some of its most important projects, including symbolic/interpretive anthropology, ecological anthropology, and the study of newly independent nations in the developing world. With these essays, addresses, and reviews, he updates us on his thoughts on cultural interpretation, the nature of political entities, and trends in various academic disciplines. As the subtitle promises, he philosophizes on the nature of anthropology and its possible relevance today. The book assumes some knowledge of contemporary academic trends, and its reviews of recent debates in the field are neither comprehensive nor satisfying. However, it reflects an eminent scholar's mature insights into the state of anthropology after it has lost much of its former prestige; realistically, Geertz holds out no optimism for its future as a profession. Several strong essays make this an essential addition to academic and many public libraries.--Jay H. Bernstein, Fordham Univ. Lib., Bronx, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
I. Passage and Accident: A Life of Learningp. 3
Overturep. 3
The Bubblep. 3
Changing the Subjectp. 11
Waiting Timep. 19
II. Thinking as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of Anthropological Fieldwork in the New Statesp. 21
III. Anti Anti-Relativismp. 42
IV. The Uses of Diversityp. 68
V. The State of the Artp. 89
Waddling Inp. 89
Culture Warp. 97
Deep Hanging Outp. 107
History and Anthropologyp. 118
"Local Knowledge" and Its Limitsp. 133
VI. The Strange Estrangement: Charles Taylor and the Natural Sciencesp. 143
VII. The Legacy of Thomas Kuhn: The Right Text at the Right Timep. 160
VIII. The Pinch of Destiny: Religion as Experience, Meaning, Identity, Powerp. 167
IX. Imbalancing Act: Jerome Bruner's Cultural Psychologyp. 187
X. Culture, Mind, Brain / Brain, Mind, Culturep. 203
XI. The World in Pieces: Culture and Politics at the End of the Centuryp. 218
The World in Piecesp. 218
What Is a Country if It Is Not a Nation?p. 231
What Is a Culture if It Is Not a Consensus?p. 240
Indexp. 205