DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Salma Yehia

2 page response to Geertz


Response to The Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight


The Deep play: notes on the Balinese cockfight by Clifford Geertz is a research paper focusing on the illegal cockfights that would occur in Bali- an Indonesian island. Geertz emphasizes the strong cultural, social and economic factors that are deeply embedded in the Balinese cockfights. He mentions his integration into the culture that got him on some scale on the “inside-scoop” of how these cockfights work. He said that because the couple had run, they became part of the village because instead of showing superiority (showing papers and saying who they were) they became in solidarity with the Balinese. Geertz continues by saying that

taking risks when researching and indulging in the culture is the best way to look at a culture because a researcher is able to get into  the “peasant mentality” which is extremely important (p.4). Ironically, he had accidently gotten into this peasant mentality. However, I do find it really interesting how different perspectives of looking into culture create different ideas and different conclusions. Geertz believes that gaining an insider view on culture creates a greater understanding than simply studying a culture from the outside. Geertz realized that cock fights have never been looked into in the Bali culture.  However, it is a very popular part of culture. And, he only found out by being part of the culture- not simply looking in.

      These cockfights represented a great importance to mainly the men in Bali. They showed the manliness and represented the toughest men. On page 5, Geertz describes how the “manliness” of a man is measured to that of different types of cocks to show how manly or unmanly they are. The cocks are treated very close to human beings. Yet, animals are considered part of the devil and children’s teeth are filed- eating being seen as an animalistic act. A big part of Geertz’s research was based on the types of bets that occurred during the cockfights and the relation to “deep play”. There were two types of bets: Single axial bet in the center between the principals (with the owner) and the peripheral ones around the ring between members of the audience (man to man)- page 11. He described how the more a central bet is, the more likely the match will be even and fair. Bentham’s concept of deep play in which the stakes are so high that it is irrational to bet is seen in these cockfights. The higher bets try to make the game more deep and interesting but, that is not what is actually interesting  (p.15-16).

One would expect that these high stake bets would affect the economic and cultural status of the individuals in the game. However, as Geertz looked into the importance of cockfights in Bali culture he comes to a somewhat ironic and confusing conclusion. He said that no one’s status changes and that no money is really gained dramatically by the cockfights. He stated that the cockfight is only “really real” to the cocks themselves- not to the people (p. 24). This makes sense at the end though because overall the cockfight is simply “a form of expression”. It displays the social structure but it does not actually move or directly affect anything.

I enjoyed reading this paper as it took something so simple and specific, yet under looked in Bali culture and examined it extensively. Geertz made observations that would otherwise be non-existent because most researchers simply look at culture from the outside. But, to really understand a culture, one has to indulge themselves in the most routine aspects of the culture. At first, I wondered how someone could write 30+ pages on something as specific as the Balinese cockfights. But, if one examines a culture as deeply as Geertz, infinite conclusions and observations can be made. I have come to learn that culture is something very intricate and has to be observed from many different levels.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.