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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Anthropologist Dame Mary Douglas has died

Posted by Bill Benzon on 05/18/07 at 06:53 AM

Best known for her 1966 book, Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas, died on the night of May 16, 2007. From an obituary in The Guardian by Richard Fardon:

Dame Mary Douglas, who has died aged 86, was the most widely read British social anthropologist of her generation. If she had to be recalled for a single achievement, it would be as the anthropologist who took the techniques of a particularly vibrant period of research into non-western societies and applied them to her own, western milieu. Within her lifetime, this was so far accepted within British anthropology as to become almost lost to view. Posterity should restore most of the credit to her, and remember her as an innovative social theorist and for her contributions particularly to the anthropological analysis of cosmology, consumption and the analysis of risk perception....

In 1966, Douglas published her most celebrated work, Purity and Danger: an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. This book is best remembered for its stylish demonstration of the ways in which all schemes of classification produce anomalies: whether the pangolin for the Lele, or the God incarnate of Catholic theology. Some of this classificatory “matter out of place” - from humble house dust in her Highgate house to the abominations of Leviticus for the Hebrews - was polluting, but other breaches of routine classification had the capacity to renew the world symbolically.

Here’s a 2006 video-taped interview by Alan Macfarlane. A Mary Douglas Fan page, with a number of interesting links.


A lot of postmodern thought seems like workups of anthropological ideas, e.g. “emic” vs. “etic”. I’ve always liked the antrho developments better.

By John Emerson on 05/19/07 at 09:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthropologist dames turn me on.

By John Emerson on 05/19/07 at 09:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

All y’all should have read Douglas.

By John Emerson on 05/20/07 at 06:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

From a brief article Mary Douglas wrote on disgust:

There are two different angles on the subject. The biologists adopt an evolutionary angle: they emphasise the genetic basis — humans are born with feelings of disgust. People are universally disgusted by slimy, smelly and putrefying things. The biologist’s view is highly plausible: excrement is slimy, smelly and disgusting, and there could be survival value for the organism that rejects anything that looks like it. If humans are endowed with primal disgust, it protects them from the risks of disease from infected bodies.

The anthropologists respond by asking about dirt-loving babies. Very small infants pop anything into their mouths. They have to be trained to leave excrement alone. So what price instinct? The psychologist responds with research that establishes the age at which spontaneous disgust emerges. Is it by the age of two? By that age children have become cautious all round, so it’s one up to the early training and says nothing about genetic influence.

By Bill Benzon on 05/20/07 at 10:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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