Pub. date: 2011 | Online Pub. Date: October 04, 2011 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412994163 | Print ISBN: 9781412959636 | Online ISBN: 9781412994163| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Thick description is a research method enabling us to discern meanings within the contexts in which social actions take place. It originated as a tool for ethnographers engaged in participant observation and was later adopted by a wider range of qualitative researchers, including some sociologists and political scientists. In his famous 1973 essay titled “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” the anthropologist Clifford Geertz explained the contrast between “thick” and “thin” description. Drawing from the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle's reflections on thinking as entailing an account of the settings, circumstances, and intentions that give actions their meanings, he showed how important it is to go beyond mere facts and appearances when it comes to interpreting behavior. The most well-known illustration provided is that of the contraction of one eyelid, which may be taken as either an involuntary twitch or as a wink (imparting a particular message, related to ...