This paper aims to provide a review on construction of the theory of culture in the most prominent works of two great scientists: sociologist Max Weber and anthropologist Clifford Geertz. It analyzes the approaches of both authors in terms of defining the culture. It further depicts the similarities and differences of the cultural theory by comparing and contrasting the object of the study chosen by each author.
The theory of culture proposed by Weber in his work “The Protestant Ethic and a Spirit of Capitalism” lies in exploring how certain religion affects individual’s ideology. Weber starts from observation that Protestants are occupying the leading positions in businesses where capital is involved. He further develops the idea by characterizing different Protestant branches and their influence on the economy of the countries where the particular confession was dominating.
Weber argues that religion is a driving force in constructing the cultural background of the community where it is populated. Also, it is remarkable to observe his analysis of the different interpretation of the same text of Bible and the motivational impulse it has on people’s action and behavior. The meaning of the teaching then becomes more essential to the human, than the teaching itself. Thus, Protestants have given a rise to capitalism due to the fact that their interpretation of God’s will is to become a worthy worker as there is “…God’s commandment to the individual to work for the divine glory” (Weber 160). Weber further proves that this thesis had psychological effect on Protestants for them to become the most effective capitalism builders. Besides strong motivation to work, Protestants were also limited in spending the gained money for pleasures, which built in puritan orientation of their mind. Putting all stated above together, Weber concludes that ascetic ethics of Protestants has allowed capitalism to flourish most successfully.
Geertz has outlined in his studies the thought that cultural theme is something that has importance to the group of people observed. This puts the minds of two authors in the one plane. As Geertz himself has admitted, he is following Weber’s thinking:
“Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be, therefore, not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.” (Interpretation of Cultures 5)
In terms of defining the cultural background, he is more concerned with giving not an organized definition of culture, but a detailed interpretation of what is standing behind the scene pictured. In his essay “Deep Play: Notes on Balinese Cockfight” he centers the plot on the fight of roosters that locals organize despite the legal prohibit. While reading, one can understand that cockfight is not just an amusement to the Balinese people. Metaphorically it reflects the whole world of those people who are living in it. In order to provide such an interpretation, Geertz was focused on starting living and feeling as the Balinese, “it is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience; a story they tell themselves about themselves” (Geertz, “Deep Play” 202). For achieving such level of trust, he is firstly struggling to break the attitude Balinese had towards a foreigner by running from police chasing the cockfight organizers, as well as all locals did. Having accomplished that, he gets much more respect from Balinese. This helps him to become not just an ethnographer gathering facts about locals, but give those facts the breath of living. Geertz runs a parallel between the cockfight and gambling around it and the hierarchy of Balinesian society and their behavior in general. The author shows that the cockfight is not a mere game, but a demonstration of statuses. As an anthropologist, he puts his task not only in depicting the fact of a pastime, but in intellectual understanding of its meaning and how it describes the nature of the observed culture.
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The works of both authors are giving the interpretation of how the cultural background forms an individual’s perception of the world. Weber studies how the religion becomes a main driver in defining the culture. Geertz explores the cultural surrounding of the object of his study itself. Both authors are providing the careful study of the individual and analytical view on what forces the individual to be like this. They focus on what influences that people give their interpretation of those influences. The conclusions of both authors are such that to any individual or a group of individuals, the culture is something of a common value and meaning. This value is transferred from generation to generation and becomes inborn knowledge of the chosen group of people. Geertz agrees and follows Weber in his understanding that “the imposition of meaning on life is the major end and primary condition of human existence, that access of significance more than compensates for the economic costs involved” (Deep Play 190).
Despite the evident similarities in the cultural theory construction, there is some differentiation between the each author’s views on the individual. In Weber’s study, the person is somewhat distant to the author. He describes what the person ought to be in order for the seed of capitalism to grow out. While Geertz literally places himself into the field of his study and describers what the individual actually is. The positions of the authors are different: one is living through his study; the other is separating himself as an uninvolved analytic. The advantage of Weber’s position is a more deliberative view on the chosen object of the study. However, it is fair to indicate that Geertz is very accurate in giving as many details as possible in the description of a cockfight and its connection to the Balinese personality. This leaves the possibility for the independent thinker to make one’s own interpretations and conclusions.
Furthermore, the style of writing is different for both authors. Geertz leads the story from his own self which gives more personalization to the narrative and it is, therefore, evident that he sympathizes the passion of Balinese about cockfight. This way, the author manages to provide the intellectual interpretation of the cockfight and it’s connection to the complicated scheme and hierarchy of Balinese culture. However, his interpretation is not restricted from his own perception, which is still a perception of the western viewer of the Balinese life. He has no inherited knowledge about the cultural framework or surrounding that inborn Balinese is growing in. He just gives his own view of the society by depicting one episode from their life. On the contrary to Geertz’s positive and open minded approach to the object of study, Weber openly criticizes the capitalism and its worldwide spread. Criticism makes the author more inquiring as to the chosen theme of study. Weber demonstrates an argumentative approach and places the study on the objective ground: statistics, observations of other scientists, etc.
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While depicting the influences of the cultural background in Balinese village, Geertz has chosen one central event that is important to all the Balinese people: the cockfight. By analyzing this event, he is exploring its affection on the individual, society and the country in general. Geertz demonstrates how Balinese men are identifying their own self with their cocks. Then he goes deeper in his interpretation on how gambling and picking an opponent is characterizing the complex layering of the hierarchy of Balinese society. Thus, Geertz goes from small picture of the everyday event to the general structure of Balinese feelings, logic and understanding of life. He proves how the critical analysis of the meanings and symbols of ordinary people may give the idea of what stands behind and how the general and full picture of society is built. This way, the author provides weighted evidence that culture is based on the understanding of the social act. Weber is going from another perspective in his study. He is studying how general drivers, such as religion, affect individual. The author explores the connection of Protestantism and its branches to the evolution of the individual mind that is ready to develop the capitalism. He goes from a big picture of the sociological trends and narrows it to the person’s stereotypes and thinking.
To conclude, one would like to stress out that both writers’ positions are strong in terms of the chosen branch of study. Weber was a pioneer in his way of showing connection between the religion and the economic development of the country. His astonishing work still amazes by its deep analytical concepts and parallels; the author was able to depict the driving force of religion and economic well-being of society. Geertz gives the best depictive analysis of the culture due to the fact that he gathers the facts from real live, living the culture through himself. This can never be accomplished while studying remotely, from the desk. Despite the outlined limitations on the object of study, he manages to provide a nearly masterpiece in terms of the interpretation possibilities of the anthropologist. Thus, both authors are definitely leaving a strong input into the study of cultural phenomena and how it can affect not only the individual, but the whole society.