Unit Two: Reproduction and Cosmology February 10

1. Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description” from The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, 1973).

Geertz’s “Thick Description” opens by introducing the concept of the “new idea” as though the reader should have a firm grip on what concept he is referencing (Geertz 310). While a bit mysterious, this somewhat surprising introduction hooks the reader by appealing to a sense of curiosity. I wonder if this sense of mystery would have been absent had I read an associated prior work or chapter.

The first page declares that the “new idea” mentioned inevitably transitions from a thing of infinite potential to an importance that lacks the potential it once held (Geertz 310). Gertz argues that the anthropological works he will reference work to transition anthropological findings in this way to ensure long-held importance.

          The text reads as a critique of a good portion of anthropological thought. Some blatant examples of this critical tone include a critique of a work by describing the author’s similes as a result of «desperation” and framing “little stories” by Oxford scholars as things they “like to make up for themselves” (Geertz 311-312).

          He defines various terms through his own perspective, such as anthropology as the study of culture as “semiotic” or the study of symbols. He also labels ethnography as “an elaborate venture into”, or “thick description” (Geertz 312). In this instance, “thick” refers to the detailed why and what of an action, while “thin” refers to the more obvious facts of an action. This definition leads into extensive commentary on the purpose and means of cultural study. The commentary functions by citing schools of anthropological practice- for instance, the way that ethnoscience, cognitive anthropology, or componential analysis argues that culture is a symptom of psychological structure.

The text concludes with the author’s opinion of what anthropology should be used for. Geertz writes that anthropology, at least interpretive anthropology, does not exist to answer questions correctly per se but to find the way that others have answered.

2. Sherine F. Hamdy, “Does Submission to God’s Will Prevent Biotechnological Intervention?” In Jeremy Stolow editor, Deus In Machina: Religion, Technology and the Things In-between (Fordham University Press, 2013), 143-57.

Hamdy’s text asks the reader to consider the ties between religion and technology. She pushes against the notion that the two domains are separate and by addressing examples of their intertwining. The text opens with an anecdote, the story of an instance within a hospital in Egypt.  The anecdote describes a man refusing a kidney transplant for religious reasons. Within the second paragraph, the moralizing of individuals’ decisions based upon religious influence is brought into the conversation.

The author blatantly states her argument “against the dominant narrative: that religious fatalism obstructs people from pursuing biotechnological intervention. … people’s understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are often inextricably enmeshed and together factor into their cost-benefit calculations about medical intervention,” (Hamdy 144). This clear thesis statement aided immensely in my understanding of the text as a whole. It is a powerful writing tactic.

The remainder of the text supports this argument through the employment of first-hand examples and other means of substantiated factual claims. Hamdy works to display the way in which an individual’s decision to receive a transplant is deeply complex. The text’s structure operates by following one narrative throughout. I found this somewhat narrative approach to be both extremely convincing and interesting.

3. Carol Delaney, “Father, State, Motherhood and the Birth of Modern Turkey.” In Sylvia Yanigasako and Carol Delaney editors, Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis (New York: Routledge, 1995), 177-200.

          From the paper’s very opening, Delaney critiques the work of anthropologists. She argues that the way in which “kinship” is used in Turkey is overlooked by many anthropologists because of the nature by which “kinship” is widely used in anthropology (Delaney 177). Having been a student in many Women’s Studies courses, it is my strong opinion that works of feminist theory often use language that is very difficult to understand. Unfortunately, this piece further supports that opinion of mine.

          The piece rests on the argument that that nationalism should be viewed through the lens that, in defining nationalism, it is most logical to define the term through ideas of cultural concepts. She emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the intersections of concepts such as family, religion, and nation. Like the prior work, Delaney explicitly states the purpose of her work. She writes that her goal is not merely to “highlight the differential placement of man and women in and to the nation” but to “show the role that symbolism of mother and father play in the conceptualization of the nation,” (Delaney 178).

          Delaney discusses the differences between “Father State” and “Motherland” in Turkey (Delaney 179). These differences are discussed through historical evidence. This historically-evidence based work provides abundant context to the work’s argument. Linguistic examination is used as evidence as well. Within the text, Delaney intertwines the position of women and the structure of language. This addressing of symbolic function is integral to the argument.

          The piece goes on to discuss the ways in which procreation and birth are used to discuss the nation of Turkey. Delaney argues that this use of language contributes to the way in which procreation and birth are framed as natural.

She discusses the notion of paternal role in citizenship and general identity. As she writes, “citizenship is not gender neutral” (Delaney 188). Gender in legality is added to prior evidence of the nation’s enactment of gender. The text closes in a summary of these ideas. Its argument points are weaved together in the conclusion.

Prospective Discussion Questions

-In what ways do the works employ evidence to very effectively drive their points home?

-Was there an argument tactic that really stood out to you? Was there one that really convinced you?

-Did anything about these articles really stand out to you as surprising?

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