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A case of rich description

Those who see an easy distinction between description and explanation are challenged by ethnography. For example Geertz's (1973) account of cock fighting in Bali is clearly descriptive but layered by a thematic analysis. In fact the account is often seen as a model of thick description (for more on this see Ryle, 1968). It takes an event which is not easily understood by an outsider (cock fighting) and makes it comprehensible by explaining the rituals, the rules, the political context and even the language used by participants. It is a reflexive account, written in the first person, in which the status and role of the researcher is made explicit, though Geertz does not take a moral position on what he is observing. It wears its analysis lightly, but behind the account there lie many field notes and inductive analysis, even if this is not made explicit. It is theoretical, explanatory and descriptive.

Geertz, C. (1973) 'Notes on the Balinese cockfight' in The Interpretation of Cultures, USA: Basic Books.

(Note a simple web search will locate copies of this article)

Ryle, G. (1968) The Thinking of thoughts, What is ‘Le Penseur’ doing?, University Lectures No 18, University of Saskatchewan. Online. Available HTTP: <>