Has the Zeitgeist any flaws?

I was doing some research for my bachelor thesis and came across some criticism on the Zeitgeist that I found interesting in the book, the Fashioned Body by Joanne Entwistle. There she talks about that one of the problems with the Zeitgeist is that it tends to simplify fashion too much. That fashion responds to social and political change can be true but there are always some exceptions to the rule that the Zeitgeist, according to Entwistle, does not take in to consideration.


“If we allow Zeitgeist theory a free hand it becomes almost a supernatural hypothesis, one of metaphysical rather than social proportion”  – The fashioned body, p. 63-64.


This criticism of hers and a few other scholars made me kind a think in a sort of a “what if” history. What if some dominating event had not happened, would fashion have evolved differently? Or would it have been the same even if the circumstances were different?


3 thoughts on “Has the Zeitgeist any flaws?

  1. Good point! A good reminder that this kind of analysis is only meant to be a beginning, not an end in itself. We are after all engaged in an “interpretive [science] in search of meaning” (Geertz 1973, 211) and we should not be content with just classifying things. Actually, it is probably good to revisit Geertz with this in mind. Take a look at the first two paragraphs in the 1973 essay, where he ends by pointing out that when a new idea for cultural analysis burst on the scene there is a tendency to think of it a s “key to the universe but eventually
    “our attention shifts to isolating just what that something is, to disentangling ourselves from a lot of pseudoscience to which, in the first flush of its celebrity, it has also given rise.” (311)

    Now that you’ve got me going on Geertz, one more point: I understand Geertz to be warning of this kind of “supernatural hypothesizing” here:
    “If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens —from what, in this time or that place, specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world— is to divorce it from its applications and render it vacant. A good interpretation of anything —a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society— takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else —into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author’s cleverness, or of the beauties of Euclidean order— it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand —figuring out what all that rigamarole with the sheep is about— calls for.” (Geertz 1973, p 317)

    Very good to keep these kinds of warnings in mind!

  2. Is it possible that any exceptions to the rules would also help define an era? What is missing from the zeitgeist map that might offset your concerns?

  3. I do not know if i think that something is missing it is rather that I think that you do not have to fill out the entire map in order for it to work. I think it could very possible that the exceptions to the rule could help in defining a era.

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