Geertz’s Thick Description and Culture: Behavioral Science


It is important to note that human behavior in both its individual as well as collective forms can be understood and studied in a number of ways. However, unlike the mere observational and interpretive assessments, Geertz’s thick description focuses on the context, driving forces, and intentions through an in-depth analytical approach. Therefore, the thick description and culture are directly related to behavioral science because the former two provide a more comprehensive and systematic perspective on human behavioral patterns and changes.

Main body

In order to properly comprehend how the thick description and culture have a relation to behavioral science, it is critical to define the term first. It is stated that “intensive, small-scale, dense descriptions of social life from observation, through which broader cultural interpretations and generalizations can be made” (“Overview: Thick description,” 2022, para. 1). Thus, one should be aware that the thick description is a methodological bridge connecting smaller behavioral scales with a larger one.

Culture is a complex system of behavior patterns manifested in a large group of individuals who share some incentive pathways to act in a specific manner. In order to be able to understand culture as a whole, a mere interpretive method might not be sufficient, which is the thick description of the paramount relevance. It is stated that “contrasting with a thin description that tells what happened in a given context, thick description evokes the meaning a course of events holds for a cultural insider, now made legible to a readership that is outside that semiotic world” (Hartblay, 2018, p. 156). In other words, the given approach emphasizes the shift of focus toward meaning and motivations behind certain actions, which are applicable and expandable to a complex system of behaviors within a context of culture. The thick description enables one to use a tool or methodological framework, which can be utilized on smaller units of behaviors, such as individuals, with a logical and sequential expansion of the understanding to a larger phenomenon, such as culture.

Since cultures are collective manifestations of a multitude of individual behaviors in accordance with their commonalities and shared drivers, specific tools are required to analyze the connection between the two. It is stated that the objective of the thick description “is not just to describe a situation, but also add details so that readers understand the significant and complex cultural meanings underpinning any observable scenario” (Drew, 2021, para. 4). Therefore, solely interpretive observations are insufficient to study a culture, which is why the given approach is analytical.

Behavioral science is primarily interested in the subject of actions performed by humans. It utilizes multiple disciplines, such as economics, psychology, cognition, and neuroscience, to create an evidence-based framework for human behavior understanding. The thick description is a rare and useful method to study both individual and collective behaviors, including culture (Leeds-Hurwitz, 2020). Thus, behavioral science is interested in expanding its arsenal of instruments available to further its capability to analyze human behavior.


In conclusion, a thick description is a critical approach to assessing behaviors at both smaller and larger scales, which enables the creation of a sound and plausible framework useful for behavioral sciences. This ability to bridge the gap between micro-social and macro-social dynamics leads to a better understanding of culture. The latter is of prime interest to behavioral science since culture plays a vital role in moving society and groups within it.


Drew, C. (2021). 5 key principles of ‘thick description’ in research. Helpful Professor. Web.

Hartblay, C. (2018). This is not thick description: Conceptual art installation as ethnographic process. Ethnography, 19(2), 153–182. Web.

Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2020). Thick description. Sage Publications Limited.

Overview: Thick description. (2022). Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Geertz’s Thick Description and Culture: Behavioral Science'. 3 April.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Geertz’s Thick Description and Culture: Behavioral Science." April 3, 2023.

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PsychologyWriting. "Geertz’s Thick Description and Culture: Behavioral Science." April 3, 2023.