Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

One theme of The Interpretation of Cultures is how systems of meaning are at the heart of cultural expression and change. Author Clifford Geertz discusses semiotics, the study of how symbols produce meaning, and uses semiotics as a framework to argue that there are no universal laws that govern culture. Rather, a culture must be understood by examining where it is situated with respect to its behavioral and intellectual traditions.

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Another theme is normative culture and how it evolves out of cultural interactions that may at first seem unpredictable and chaotic. Like the evolution of human language, which began as simplistic phonetic sounds and today has an exponentially diversifying grammar and vocabulary, culture emerges out of a shared language of behavior. The behaviors in a given culture that most people understand and use to communicate are its cultural norms. Normative cultural behavior can be thought of as the paint that an artist uses to generate new cultural behavior, using recognizable forms to postulate and inspire new ones.

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