Populism as a Concept and the Challenge of U.S. History – IdeAs – article

Populism as a Concept and the Challenge of U.S. History

Charles Postel | IdeAs

2019-10-30

Clifford Geertz was a key protagonist in the development of “interpretive social science,” but much of our understanding of his position as an intellectual neglects the crucial years before the publication of The Interpretation of Cultures. In this article, I argue that there is a common thread in Geertz’s early work and that it addressed, quite sophisticatedly, the reworking of the concept of cultural system, which he wrote on from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This research program was first developed in the context of the “basic social science” that characterized Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, and it had the support of key figures in that network. Geertz’s position in that intellectual debate was as a contributor to the development of a theory of culture that could address issues left unsolved by structural-functionalism and action theory. In that process, Geertz gradually developed a more interpretivist reading of the cultural system, while maintaining the support of his original network. The article offers some conclusions about the role of support within attention spaces in cases in which emergent intellectual positions can lead to the definition of new research programs.

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