Geertz, C. (1972). Deep play: Notes on the Balinese cockfight. Bobbs-Merrill.
2. Where did/does the author work, what else has s/he written about, and what are her/his credentials?
Clifford Geertz is a World War II Veteran who graduated from Antioch College in 1950 with a B.A. in Philosophy and received his Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard in 1956. Geertz taught at a number of schools, his most renowned professorship emeritus was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1970 to 2000. Geertz also received numerous honorary doctorate degrees from many of the universities he taught or lectured at including Harvard, the University of Chicago and Cambridge University. To accompany his distinguished academic career, Geertz authored over 50 anthropological publications covering a wide range of topics. (“Clifford Geertz,” 2012)
3. What are the topics of the text? 4. What is the main argument of the text? / 5. Describe at least three ways that the argument is supported. Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight is an essay in Clifford Geertz’s book The Interpretation of Cultures. The essay is the published account of Geertz’s participant observation of a Balinese village in Indonesia that began in April of 1958. The text is a combination of a narrative and analysis of his experiences in Bali. The main topics of the text follow a timeline of Geertz’s stay in Bali along with analytical descriptions of the events witnessed.
At first Geertz illustrates how he and his wife were completely ignored by the whole village except a select few.The Balinese did not treat Geertz or his wife with any sense of hostility, just extreme indifference. Cockfights are illegal in Bali and it just so happened that 10 days into Geertz’s stay, at the first cockfight he attends, it was raided by the police. While the Balinese were not too startled by the raid, what did startle them is the fact that Geertz and his wife chose to run and hide along with the villagers, instead of remaining at the ring and providing the police with their government papers declaring them “Distinguished Visitors.” Although Geertz and his wife had been living among the villagers, their decision to disperse with the villagers completely altered the villagers’ perceptions of them. Geertz described how the following day they were no longer ignored and instead they “were suddenly the center of all attention, the object of a great outpouring of warmth, interest, and most especially, amusement.” (Geertz, 1972) After this pivotal moment Geertz was allowed access into Balinese culture and was able to truly begin to observe and interpret their culture. Geertz notes that this is not a typical method for gaining access to a society but that without it he may never have gained their acceptance.
Once Geertz was allowed into Balinese culture he was able to observe and understand the Balinese’s attachment to their cocks. It is interesting to note that “the double entendre of the word…works the same way in Balinese as it does in English”(Geertz, 1972) Balinese men, almost all of whom Geertz noted kept cocks, took great care of their roosters and performed superstitious rights in order to make them better fighters for the ring. Geertz determined that a Balinese man’s rooster was a direct representation of his status and prestige. “Although it is true that cocks are symbolic expressions or magnifications of their owner’s self. … They are also expressions…of the Balinese regard as the direct inversion aesthetically, morally and metaphysically of human status: animality.” (Geertz, 1972) Cockfights were a central part of Balinese culture because it was there were power and prestige was transferred among the community, determined by the winner and looser of the fight.
Geertz also observed that the Balinese were typically a very reserved and non-aggressive people. He noted how he rarely saw open conflicts or even arguments outside of the cockfighting arena. “In identifying with his cock, the Balinese man is identifying not just with his ideal self, or even his penis, but also, and at the same time, with what he fears, hates, and ambivalence being what it is, is fascinated by- The Powers of Darkness.” (Geertz, 1972) Geertz stated that cockfights were the sole arena in which Balinese men were able to display the animalistic tendencies of man which they normally repressed.
Geertz gives a vivid description of what transpires at a cockfight. He based his report on watching a total of fifty-seven matches throughout his stay in Bali. Geertz details the intricate social organism and system which is the cockfight. While the system of rules surrounding it is interesting, the more interesting part which Geertz observed was the gambling process and its implications in Balinese culture. Geertz describes the detailed gambling system made up of two types of bets: the first is an organized collective bet between the two factions of cocks fighting which occurs in the center of the ring, before the match begins and is the larger bet, and the second is the haphazard betting where lower amounts are risked and that takes place on the outside of the ring within the crowd during the match. Geertz illustrates how the initial larger bet determines the tendencies for the smaller betting throughout the fight and often is a representation of the matchup between the two roosters.
Geertz main argument in the text is not articulating the historical record of what he observed, but illustrating rather the social and cultural implications that he unveiled by observing cockfights. Stemming from the Balinese’s association of their cocks with their status, Geertz observed that the Balinese betting system was not centered on loosing or gaining large sums of money, the Balinese in fact only hoped to break even in the long run, but instead it had a deeper meaning. The betting system structure of the two types of bets developed a “sociomoral hierarchy.” “What makes the Balinese cockfighting deep is this not money itself, but…the migration of the Balinese status hierarchy into the body of the cockfight.” (Geertz, 1972)
The hierarchy was delineated and ranked: first those with prestige and status within the community that stood in the inner most circle of the ring, were involved in the most important fights and placed the large organized bets; second came those involved in the less important fights; third were men that did not fight cocks themselves but still placed wagers from the outer-part of the ring; and finally came the lowest group made up of women, children, adolescents, the poor and socially despised. Geertz noted how the lowest group did not place bets on the cockfights but instead took part in numerous other “sheer-chance type gambling games operated by concessionaries” which took place surrounding the ring. (Geertz, 1972)
In tandem with the social hierarchy set up by the cockfighting ring, a complex social connection systems in also established. Geertz describes how the underlying reasons behind betting are often unrelated to the perceived chances of either rooster winning the match, but rather a demonstration of social allegiance to the handler, owner or faction that a particular rooster represents. This system developed a complex interconnectedness of customs and morals which are strictly followed yet unspoken in the betting process. For example Geertz noted that if a man believes that his kin’s rooster has absolutely no chance at winning the match he will often refrain from betting, walk away from the fight and meander about in order not to show disloyalty to his kin. Similarly friends and kin never ask each other who they are betting for because if they are betting opposite sides it could result in tension among the two. These traits refer back to one of Geertz original observations that the Balinese go out of their way to refrain from confrontation. “[The Balinese] activate village and kingroup rivalries and hostilities, but in ‘play’ form, coming dangerously and entrancingly close to the expression of open and direct interpersonal and intergroup aggression (something which, again, almost never happens in the normal course of ordinary life), but not quite, because, after all, it is ‘only a cockfight’.” (Geertz, 1972)
Geertz’s concludes that the Balinese cockfight is a type of “sentimental education” which teaches the Balinese man “his culture’s ethos.” (Geertz, 1972) Geertz’s sole sympathetic tone throughout the text is unveiled when he discusses how unfortunately this form of education is derived from a blood sport which consists of watching two chickens mindless hack each other to death. Geertz continues to say that “every people, the proverb has it, loves its own form of violence, The cockfight is the Balinese reflection on theirs…Drawing on almost every level of Balinese experience, it brings together themes- animal savagery, male narcissism, opponent gambling, status rivalry, mass excitement, blood sacrifice- whose main connection is their involvement with rage and the fear of rage, and, binding them into a set of rules which at once contains them and allows them play, builds a symbolic structure in which, over and over again, the reality of their inner affiliation can be intelligibly felt.” (Geertz, 1972) Although it is long, I chose to directly quote this articulation by Geertz because I felt that in summarized and reinstated his entire text is a few lines; in a way, which I believe, I could not achieve as accurately.
Geertz lists a number of social characteristics he observed resulting from cockfighting but I found the ones I mentioned to be the most significant and illustrative of Balinese culture. A final note which I also found to be very interesting is that according to Geertz, the Balinese themselves are quite aware of the many social nuances associated with cockfighting “and, at least to an ethnographer, do state most of it in approximately the same terms”(Geertz, 1972) as Geertz has.
6. What three quotes capture the message of the text?
1) “As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf links, at a race track, or around a poker table, as much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually it is men.” (Geertz, 1972)
2) “In identifying with his cock, the Balinese man is identifying not just with his ideal self, or even his penis, but also, and at the same time, with what he fears, hates, and ambivalence being what it is, is fascinated by- The Powers of Darkness.” (Geertz, 1972)
3) “You [The Balinese] activate village and kingroup rivalries and hostilities, but in ‘play’ form, coming dangerously and entrancingly close to the expression of open and direct interpersonal and intergroup aggression (something which, again, almost never happens in the normal course of ordinary life), but not quite, because, after all, it is ‘only a cockfight’,” (Geertz, 1972)
7. What three questions about research methods does this article leave you with?
The first question that comes to my mind is one that Geertz states he does not know the answer to. I would like to know what techniques and methods an anthropologist/ethnographer should take to gain access within a community like Bali, which was at first extremely exclusive toward Geertz and his wife.
I also wonder how long his stay in the Balinese village was for. At one point in his text he mentions that cockfights occurred around every two or three days and if he observed fifty-seven of them this means that he was at the village for at least 114 days.
My final question is whether or not Geertz partook in the betting process which occurred at the cockfights. In the text Geertz describes that those who refrained from betting were seen as pompous and even arrogant by the Balinese villagers. Did they perceive him this way if he did not bet? Or did they overlook that aspect since he was a foreigner?
8. What three points, details or references from the text did you follow up on to advance your understanding of and skill with HASS research methods?
I felt like Geertz did a good job explaining his methods and reasoning behind the research he conducted so the text does not leave me with that many other questions specifically regarding methods. To me it was obvious that he used participant observation as his main tool, observing the occurrence of fifty-seven cockfights. He also supplemented this with key informant interviews, mainly from the man which he initially hid with during the first cockfight raid. I also assume that Geertz learned the local language in order to conduct his research although it is not explicitly stated.
I attempted to find out how long Geertz stayed in Bali for but was unable to find it online.