Interpretation, Explanation and Theories of Meaning


  • Ann Swidler Sociology Department, University of California, Berkeley
  • Ronald L. Jepperson Sociology Department, University of Tulsa



Interpretation, explanation, meaning, culture, theory, Clifford Geertz


We use the work of Clifford Geertz to examine long-standing questions about the relationship between interpretation and explanation. We extract from Geertz’s work explanatory theories of what we are calling meaning and meaningfulness. We argue that making explicit interpretivists’ implicit theories about how these differing kinds of cultural experience work clarifies what interpretivists like Geertz are doing, but also allows us to examine the strengths and weaknesses of theories that underlie interpretive practice. We find that Geertz was more of a generalizing theorist of culture than he claimed to be and that the theories he worked with provide fruitful elements for an ongoing, theoretically-guided research program into how culture works.


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How to Cite

Swidler, A., & Jepperson, R. L. (2024). Interpretation, Explanation and Theories of Meaning. Sociologica, 18(1), 65–85.