Culture as text: Hazards and possibilities of Geertz's literary/literacy metaphor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This paper considers the conceptual, ethnographic, ethical, and methodological implications of Geertz's influential metaphors of culture as 'text' and of fieldwork as 'reading.' In Morocco, one of Geertz's two long-term field sites, large segments of the rural population, Berber-speaking even more than Arabic-speaking, are unschooled and nonliterate. Women's rich expressive culture, including religious culture, is oral. Drawing on long-term fieldwork among Tashelhit-speaking Berber women in southwestern Morocco, I consider the language ideologies that shape women's attitudes toward the production and dissemination of religious oral texts. These ideologies complicate the supposed transparency of Geertz's literary/literacy metaphor. The paper reconsiders the possibilities of this metaphor for the anthropology of language, and locates Geertz's contribution and critical responses to it within the history of ideas and ethics shaping ethnographic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-430
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of North African Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Clifford Geertz
  • Language ideologies
  • Oral culture
  • Religious language
  • Text

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'Culture as text: Hazards and possibilities of Geertz's literary/literacy metaphor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this