Their vision of culture influenced anthropological thinking for at least fifty years. Culture, as a guidance system, leads society to notice important differences between humans and other phenomena that get directed. Humans and their guides are often in conflict. Humans, or peculiar primates, create a peculiar guidance system, one that is praised, died for, evaded, avoided, and taught to young children. Intuitively, all we know about culture makes sense.
C. Geertz represents a symbolic anthropology school which underlines a key role of symbols (thoughts) in society and its culture. Geertz develops and discusses the main ideas about culture and its meaning in The Interpretation of Culture (1973) and Local Knowledge: Further essays in Interpretive Anthropology (1983). It is important to note that this school of thoughts is also called an interpretive anthropology, paying a special attention to semiotic nature of culture. Under the leadership of Clifford Geertz, culture generates considerable excitement as a semiotic concept. Ideas and concepts used in his theories, Geertz took from the work of Gilbert Ryle and translating his philosophical ideas into notions usable by anthropologists, Geertz is revitalizing an old link with philosophy. This revitalization movement has its own vision of culture.
According to Geertz, culture is no longer a map lodged in human minds; it is no longer plans, recipes, and rules. Culture, now, is traffic in things which impose meaning. More completely, and in Geertz's words, culture is traffic in anything "that is disengaged from its mere actuality and used to impose meaning upon experience" (Geertz 1973, p. 45). Within this context, human activity is well described as a "text," and a culture as an assemblage of texts. In presenting texts to interested publics and in interpreting their meanings, anthropologists assume old roles with some new labels, observers, scribes, translators, and interpreters. The documents anthropologists present must be deeply embedded in the contextual richness of social life; a text, that is, must be a "thick" description. Geertz defines culture as
"a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life" (Geertz 1973, p. 89).
The problem is, it is quite easy to write a text that is thick, but it is very difficult to write a text that is valid. The problem has not escaped Geertz. He admits that it is difficult to fathom "what our informants are up to and what it all means." Also, he settles rather cheaply for "doing the best we can" and using a lot of guessing. In his words:
Cultural analysis is (or should be) guessing at meaning, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses, not discovering the Continent of Meaning and mapping out its bodiless landscape. (1973: 15)
Guessing, a fundamental strategy in science, generally passes under the more prestigious name of hypothesizing. And hypothesizing, in traditional science, is but part of the opening moves. In the middle game and the end game scientists (1) build and use models and (2) utilize verification procedures. Instead of formal models, Geertz provides two general and rather strange images. Humans, for Geertz, are like spiders "suspended in webs of significance"