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date: 21 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

When social theory was largely focused on social structure and sociology was in search of objective measures, Clifford Geertz argued for an interpretive social science in search of meaning. He saw language and other symbols as pervasive structures of meaning that allow actors to understand events and guide their action. These symbols are connected in ‘webs of significance’ that are the object of cultural analysis. This chapter begins with a discussion of the key elements in Geertz’s contribution. It goes on to show how Geertz’s versions of culture, interpretivism, and thick description were picked up in organizational studies. It finds the influence strongest among a first wave of early adopters, as part of the surge of organizational culture studies in the 1980s. A second wave of interpretivists was more critical, drawing on postmodernism and institutional theory. Nevertheless, a revitalized interpretivism, deeply indebted to Geertz’s ‘thick description’ continues to evolve.

Keywords: interpretivism, culture, thick description, Clifford Geertz, organizational culture

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