Clifford Geertz has used symbolic and interpreted anthropology as a way of revealing ideas on Balinese culture, the symbol being the cockfight. Geertz had difficulty at first communicating and relating with the local people, however once he experienced the cockfight and ran away from the police like the locals did he was immediately welcomed and of high interest to the people of the town as it was of amusement. Here he states “In Bali, to be teased is to be accepted.

It was the turning point so far as our relationship to the community was concerned, and we were quite literally ‘in’. ” (Geertz 1993:416). Here he explains how suddenly from this experience he was able to bond. , therefore it was through the cockfight Geertz could learn and communicate the Balinese culture. Geertz goes on to use this banal and mundane practice to unpack the tellings of this certain culture. He does not look for absolute truth but rather the meaning.

He holds no views he just passes on his understanding, for example people may argue that cockfighting is morally wrong and barbaric however Geertz does not convey any judgement he is concerned in what the cockfight means for the Balinese, for example “the cock who landed the first blow usually proceeds to finish off his weakened opponent.

But this is far from an inevitable outcome, for if a cock can walk, he can fight, and if he can fight he can kill, and what counts is which cock expires first” (Geertz 1993:423).

Geertz Balinese Cock Fight

Bentham argues against the betting, as he believes it to be irrational, Geertz counters this argument by suggesting people do irrational things the whole time and that it doesn’t matter because the important thing in this situation is status, therefore bringing in the politics of the practice.

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Geertz implies that the cockfight is a way of expressing power from which they don’t usually have. “As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf link, at a race track, or around a poker table, much of bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting. Actually it is men” (Geertz 1993:417)

Geertz has used this cockfight as not only a way to experience and communicate with the locals and its culture but also as an illustration of a method. It has been analysed in a way to create an analogy and reveal big themes in Balinese society such as status, inequality, rage and passion. What he has done is similar to Shakespeare in his plays. Geertz’s approach is entirely a symbolic analysis with no deep empathy. Although he brings out a lot of interesting theories and suggestions from symbolising this can be criticised because it is purely an interpretation, therefore how can we verify it?

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Balinese Cockfight. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Balinese Cockfight
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