When anthropologists write about events that happen on the field or about a particular society, they would provide as much information as possible on the written text. From the example in Geertz’ essay about Cohen and the Berbers and how he was able to get his ar in the form of a large number of sheep (Geertz, 8), the reader learned who the robbers and rebels were, what ar was, how was it taken, what the political situation was at that time with the French officials, and what the punishments were in those times. Geertz mentioned that the event was told to him in 1968, however the actual event took place more than 50 years earlier (p.9). The person’s account of what happened is already an interpretation of the event. It was told from that person’s perspective. And Geertz, when he organized such information on his fieldnotes, is also writing his own interpretation (based on the interpretations of his informants) about what occurred more than 50 years ago.
It is all these combination of various levels of interpretations that comprise what Geertz refer to as “thick description.” According to Geertz, “ethnography is thick description” (p.9-10). In doing his job of gathering information, sifting through various data, analyzing the information, and looking at these texts from the lenses of particular theories, the ethnographer is coming up with a thick description. “Thick,” in the sense that there are so many layers that can be explored from all the information. Each layer, therefore is a result of interpretations of individuals who also are shaped by the context from where they come from and their own experiences.
The interpretations that anthropologists offer, for example about events, practices, perspectives, history, and culture, are results of a rigorous attention to detail and an awareness to include all aspects of that which they are studying. At the same time, these interpretations do not stand alone in a particular time, but are also informed by the ethnographer’s own background and his knowledge of the history and culture of the people, place, event, or practice he/she is investigating.
As a student of Anthropology, this writer is in awe about how much influence an ethnographer has on his/her final product. It is true that the anthropologist tries to be as objective as he/she can possibly be in collecting the data and doing the analysis. However, the fact that ethnography is his version of the thick description of his object of study goes to show that the work of ethnographers/anthropologists is highly influenced by their own perspectives. Thus, to limit such subjectivity, anthropologists have to strictly adhere to methods in field research as well as principles in Anthropology. In doing so, their ethnographies would stand the criticisms of both their peers and professionals from other disciplines.
Anthropological writings are interpretations. However, these interpretations are not matter of fact, or sweeping interpretations. These interpretations are informed and shaped by dedication and a conscious attention to abide by the rules of science and principles espoused by the field of Anthropology. The interpretations provided by anthropologists in their writings is a result of analytical thinking validated by years of experience of being aware of all the layers of thick description comprising any event, practice, and topic being studied.