Douglas – Purity and Danger (Intro & Chapter 2)

Purity and Danger

by Mary Douglas

[ Douglas, Mary. 1966. “Introduction” and “Secular Defilement” in Purity and Danger, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, Pg. 1-6 & 30-41]

Points & Quotes:

Introduction

“As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread of holy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of our behaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order.Eliminating it is not a negative movement, but a positive effort to organise the environment. ” (2)

” In chasing dirt, in papering, decorating, tidying we are not governed by anxiety to escape disease, but are positively re-ordering our environment, making it conform to an idea. There is nothing fearful or unreasoning in our dirt-avoidance: it is a creative movement, an attempt to relate form to function, to make unity of experience. If this is so with our separating, tidying and purifying, we should interpret primitive purification and prophylaxis in the same light. ” (2)

Secular Defilement

“our ideas of dirt … express symbolic systems and that the difference between pollution behaviour in one part of the world and another is only a matter of detail. […]
“There are two notable differences between our contemporaryEuropean ideas of defilement and those, say, of primitive cultures.:

  1. One is that dirt avoidance for us is a matter of hygiene or aesthetics and is not related to our religion”
  2. ” The second difference is that our idea of dirt is dominated by the knowledge of pathogenic organisms. The bacterial transmission of disease was a great nineteenth-century discovery. It produced the most radical revolution in the history of medicine. So much has it transformed our lives that it is difficult to think of dirt except in the context of pathogenicity. Yet obviously our ideas of dirt are not so recent. We must be able to make the effort to think back beyond the last 100 years and to analyse the bases of dirt-avoidance, before it was transformed by bacteriology; for example, before spitting deftly into a spittoon was counted unhygienic. ” (36 formatting added)

If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. This is a very suggestive approach. It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and a contravention of that order. Dirt then, is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system. Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements.” (36 emphasis added)

Mary Douglas on Schema

As perceivers we select from all the stimuli falling on our senses only those which interest us, and our interests are governed by a pattern-making tendency, sometimes called schema (see Bartlett, 1932) In a chaos of shifting impressions, each of us constructs a stable world in which objects have recognisable shapes, are located in depth, and have permanence. In perceiving we are building, taking some cues and rejecting others. The most acceptable cues are those which fit most easily into the pattern that is being built up. Ambiguous ones tend to be treated as if they harmonised with the rest of the pattern. Discordant ones tend to be rejected. If they are accepted the structure of assumptions has to be modified. As learning proceeds objects are named. Their names then affect the way they are perceived next time: once labelled they are more speedily slotted into the pigeon-holes in future.

As time goes on and experiences pile up, we make a greater and greater investment in our system of labels. So a conservative bias is built in. It gives us confidence. At any time we may have to modify our structure of assumptions to accommodate new experience, but the more consistent experience is with the past, the more confidence we can have in our assumptions. Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we find ourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb these established assumptions. By and large anything we take note of is pre- selected and organised in the very act of perceiving. We share with other animals a kind of filtering mechanism which at first only lets in sensations we know how to use.” (37-38)

And finally…

if uncleanness is matter out of place, we must approach it through order. Uncleanness or dirt is that which must not be included if a pattern is to be maintained. To recognise this is the first step towards insight into pollution. It involves us in no clear-cut distinction between sacred and secular. The same principle applies throughout. Furthermore, it involves no special distinction between primitives and moderns: we are all subject to the same rules.” (41)

Terms:

dirt—matter out of place; the contravention of some larger set of ordered relations. Dirt is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system

Schema—see extended definition above

Annotation Summary for Purity & Danger, Chapter 1 & 2

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” As we know it, dirt is essentiallydisorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of thebeholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread ofholy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of ourbehaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order.Eliminating it is not a negative movement, but a positive effort to organisethe environment. “

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” Inchasing dirt, in papering, decorating, tidying we are not governed byanxiety to escape disease, but are positively re-ordering our environment,making it conform to an idea. There is nothing fearful or unreasoning inour dirt-avoidance: it is a creative movement, an attempt to relate form tofunction, to make unity of experience. If this is so with our separating,tidying and purifying, we should interpret primitive purification andprophylaxis in the same light. “

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Pollution ideas work in the life of society at two levels, one largelyinstrumental, one expressive. At the first level, the more obvious one, wefind people trying to influence one another’s behaviour. Beliefs reinforcesocial pressures: all the powers of the universe are called in to guaranteean old man’s dying wish, a mother’s dignity, the rights of the weak andinnocent.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “the laws of nature are dragged in to sanction the moral code: this kind of disease is caused by adultery, that by incest; this meteorological disaster is the effect of political disloyalty, that the effect of impiety. The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “kind of disease is caused by adultery, that by incest;”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “as we examine pollution beliefs we find that the kind of contacts which are thought dangerous also carry a symbolic load. This is a more interesting level at which pollution ideas relate to social life. I believe that some pollutions are used as analogies for expressing a general view of the social order.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “But in another sense I do not wish to suggest that the primitive culturesin which these ideas of contagion flourish are rigid, hide-bound andstagnant. No one knows how old are the ideas of purity and impurity inany non-literate culture: to members they must seem timeless andunchanging. But there is every reason to believe that they are sensitive”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “to change. The same impulse to impose order which brings them intoexistence can be supposed to be continually modifying or enriching them.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The initial recognition of anomaly leads to anxiety and from there to suppression or avoidance; so far, so good. But we must look for a more energetic organising principle to do justice to the elaborate cosmologies which pollution symbols reveal.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “It may seem impossible for such a person to shake his own thought free of the protected habit-grooves of his culture. How”

Page 5, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “protected habit-grooves of his culture.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The more we know about primitive religions the more clearly it appearsthat in their symbolic structures there is scope for meditation on the greatmysteries of religion and philosophy. Reflection on dirt involves reflectionon the relation of order to disorder, being to non-being, form toformlessness, life to death. Wherever ideas of dirt are highly structured”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “their analysis discloses a play upon such profound themes.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “2”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Secular Defilement”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “On the first approach it is implied that if we only knew all the circumstances we would find the rational basis of primitive ritual amply justified.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The importance of incense is not that it symbolises the ascending smoke of sacrifice, but it is a means of making tolerable the smells of unwashed humanity. Jewish and Islamic avoidance of pork is explained as due to the dangers of eating pig in hot climates.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “It is true that there can be a marvellous correspondence between the avoidance of contagious disease and ritual avoidance. The washings and separations which serve the one practical purpose may be apt to express religious themes at the same time. So it has been argued that their rule of washing before eating may have given the Jews immunity in plagues. But it is one thing to point out the side benefits of ritual actions, and another thing to be content with using the by-products as a sufficient explanation. Even if some of Moses’s dietary rules were hygienically beneficial it is a pity to treat him as an enlightened public health administrator, rather than as a spiritual leader.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “medical materialism, a term coined by William James for the tendency to account for religious experience in these terms: for instance, a vision or dream is explained as due to drugs or indigestion. There is no objection to this approach unless it excludes other interpretations.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “As to the opposite view – that primitive ritual has nothing whatever incommon with our ideas of cleanness – this I deplore as equally harmful tothe understanding of ritual. On this view our washing, scrubbing, isolatingand disinfecting has only a superficial resemblance with ritualpurifications. Our practices are solidly based on hygiene; theirs aresymbolic: we kill germs, they ward off spirits. “

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “A distinction is made between cooked and uncooked food as carriers ofpollution. Cooked food is liable to pass on pollution, while uncooked foodis not. So uncooked foods may be received from or handled by membersof any caste – a necessary rule from the practical point of view in a societywhere the division of labour is correlated with degrees of inherited purity.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The more deeply we go into this and similar rules, the more obvious it becomes that we are studying symbolic systems. Is this then really the difference between ritual pollution and our ideas of dirt: Are our ideas hygienic where theirs are symbolic? Not a bit of it: I am going to argue that our ideas of dirt also express symbolic systems and that the difference between pollution behaviour in one part of the world and another is only a matter of detail.”

Page 13, Underline (Blue):
Content: “Is this then really the difference between ritual pollution and our ideas of dirt: Are our ideas hygienic where theirs are symbolic? Not a bit of it: I am going to argue that our ideas of dirt also express symbolic systems and that the difference between pollution behaviour in one part of the world and another is only a matter of detail.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Before we start to think about ritual pollution we must go down in sack-cloth and ashes and scrupulously re-examine our own ideas of dirt.Dividing them into their parts, we should distinguish any elements whichwe know to be the result of our recent history. There are two notable differences between our contemporaryEuropean ideas of defilement and those, say, of primitive cultures. One isthat dirt avoidance for us is a matter of hygiene or aesthetics and is notrelated to our religion.”

Page 13, Underline (Blue):
Content: “There are two notable differences between our contemporaryEuropean ideas of defilement and those, say, of primitive cultures. One isthat dirt avoidance for us is a matter of hygiene or aesthetics and is notrelated to our religion”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” The second di fference i s t hat our i dea of di rt i s domi nat ed by t heknowledge of pathogenic organisms. The bacterial transmission ofdisease was a great nineteenth-century discovery. It produced the mostradical revolution in the history of medicine. So much has it transformedour lives that it is difficult to think of dirt except in the context ofpathogenicity. Yet obviously our ideas of dirt are not so recent. We mustbe able to make the effort to think back beyond the last 100 years and toanalyse the bases of dirt-avoidance, before it was transformed bybacteriology; for example, before spitting deftly into a spittoon wascounted unhygienic. “

Page 13, Underline (Blue):
Content: “The second di fference i s t hat our i dea of di rt i s domi nat ed by t he knowledge of pathogenic organisms. The bacterial transmission of disease was a great nineteenth-century discovery.”

Page 13, Stamp (openStarred)

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, weare left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. This is a verysuggestive approach. It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relationsand a contravention of that order. Dirt then, is never a unique, isolatedevent. Where there is dirt there is system. Dirt is the by-product of asystematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as orderinginvolves rejecting inappropriate elements.”

Page 13, Underline (Blue):
Content: “If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, weare left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. This is a verysuggestive approach. It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relationsand a contravention of that order. Dirt then, is never a unique, isolatedevent. Where there is dirt there is system. Dirt is the by-product of asystematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as orderinginvolves rejecting inappropriate elements.”

Page 13, Highlight (Yellow):
Content: “dirt”

Page 13, Stamp (yesgrn)

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” It is a relative idea. Shoes are not dirty in themselves, but it isdirty to place them on the dining-table; food is not dirty in itself, but it isdirty to leave cooking utensils in the bedroom, or food bespattered onclothing; similarly, bathroom equipment in the drawing room; clothinglying on chairs; out-door things in-doors; upstairs things downstairs;under-clothing appearing where over-clothing should be, and so on. “

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “As perceivers we select from all the stimuli falling on our senses only those which interest us, and our interests are governed by a pattern-making tendency, sometimes called schema (see Bartlett, 1932).”

Page 14, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “As perceivers we select from all the stimuli falling on our senses only those which interest us, and our interests are governed by a pattern-making tendency, sometimes called schema (see Bartlett, 1932). In a chaos of shifting impressions, each of us constructs a stable world in which objects have recognisable shapes, are located in depth, and have permanence. In perceiving we are building, taking some cues and rejecting others. The most acceptable cues are those which fit most easily into the pattern that is being built up. Ambiguous ones tend to be treated as if they harmonised with the rest of the pattern. Discordant ones tend to be rejected. If they are accepted the structure of assumptions has to be modified. As learning proceeds objects are named. Their names then affect the way they are perceived next time: once labelled they are more speedily slotted into the pigeon-holes in future. As time goes on and experiences pile up, we make a greater and greater investment in our system of labels. So a conservative bias is built in. It”

Page 14, Highlight (Yellow):
Content: “schema”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” In a chaos of shifting impressions, each of usconstructs a stable world in which objects have recognisable shapes, arelocated in depth, and have permanence. In perceiving we are building,taking some cues and rejecting others. The most acceptable cues are thosewhich fit most easily into the pattern that is being built up. Ambiguousones tend to be treated as if they harmonised with the rest of the pattern.Discordant ones tend to be rejected. “

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “If they are accepted the structure of assumptions has to be modified. As learning proceeds objects are named. Their names then affect the way they are perceived next time: once labelled they are more speedily slotted into the pigeon-holes in future.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “As time goes on and experiences pile up, we make a greater and greater investment in our system of labels. So a conservative bias is built in. It”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “gives us confidence. At any time we may have to modify our structure ofassumptions to accommodate new experience, but the more consistentexperience is with the past, the more confidence we can have in ourassumptions. Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we findourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb theseestablished assumptions. By and large anything we take note of is pre-selected and organised in the very act of perceiving. We share with otheranimals a kind of filtering mechanism which at first only lets in sensationswe know how to use. “

Page 15, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “gives us confidence. At any time we may have to modify our structure ofassumptions to accommodate new experience, but the more consistentexperience is with the past, the more confidence we can have in ourassumptions. Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we findourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb theseestablished assumptions. By and large anything we take note of is pre-selected and organised in the very act of perceiving. We share with otheranimals a kind of filtering mechanism which at first only lets in sensationswe know how to use. “

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “But it is not always an unpleasant experience to confront ambiguity.Obviously it is more tolerable in some areas than in others. There is awhole gradient on which laughter, revulsion and shock belong at differentpoints and intensities. The experience can be stimulating.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Ehrenzweig has even arguedthat we enjoy works of art because they enable us to go behind the explicitstructures of our normal experience. Aesthetic pleasure arises from theperceiving of inarticulate forms. “

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Granted, then, that we are capable of confronting anomaly. Whensomething is firmly classed as anomalous the outline of the set in which itis not a member is clarified. To illustrate this I quote from Sartre’s essayon stickiness. Viscosity, he says, repels in its own right, as a primaryexperience. An infant, plunging its hands into a jar of honey, is instantlyinvolved in contemplating the formal properties of solids and liquids andthe essential relation between the subjective experiencing self and theexperienced world (1943, p. 696 seq.). “

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The viscous is a state half-waybetween solid and liquid. It is like a crosssection in a process of change. Itis unstable, but it does not flow. It is soft, yielding and compressible. Thereis no gliding on its surface. Its stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; itattacks the boundary between myself and it. Long columns falling off myfingers suggest my own substance flowing into the pool of stickiness.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “I cannot do justice, in shortening the passage, to the marvellousreflections to which Sartre is provoked by the idea of stickiness as anaberrant fluid or a melting solid. But it makes the point that we can and doreflect with profit on our main classifications and on experiences whichdo not exactly fit them. “

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “There are several ways of treating anomalies. Negatively, we can ignore, just not perceive them, or perceiving we can condemn. Positively we can deliberately confront the anomaly and try to create a new pattern of reality in which it has a place. It is not impossible for an individual to”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “revise his own personal scheme of classifications. But no individual lives in isolation and his scheme will have been partly received from others.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” A private person may revise his pattern of assumptions or not. It is aprivate matter. But cultural categories are public matters. They cannot soeasily be subject to revision. Yet they cannot neglect the challenge ofaberrant forms. Any given system of classification must give rise toanomalies, and any given culture must confront events which seem to defyits assumptions”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “ons. It cannot ignore the anomalies which its schemeproduces, except at risk of forfeiting confidence. This is why, I suggest,we find in any culture worthy of the name various provisions for dealingwith ambiguous or anomalous events.”

Page 17, Underline (Blue):
Content: “I suggest, we find in any culture worthy of the name various provisions for dealing with ambiguous or anomalous events.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “First, by settling for one or other interpretation, ambiguity is often reduced. For example, when a monstrous birth occurs, the defining lines between humans and animals may be threatened. If a monstrous birth can be labelled an event of a peculiar kind the categories can be restored. So the Nuer treat monstrous births as baby hippopotamuses, accidentally born to humans and, with this labelling, the appropriate action is clear. They gently lay them in the river where they belong (Evans-Pritchard, 1956, p. 84).”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Second, the existence of anomaly can be physically controlled. Thus in some West African tribes the rule that twins should be killed at birth eliminates a social anomaly, if it is held that two humans could not be born from the same womb at the same time. Or take the night-crowing cocks. If their necks are promptly wrung, they do not live to contradict the definition of a cock as a bird that crows at dawn.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Third, a rule of avoiding anomalous things affirms and strengthens the definitions to which they do not conform. So where Leviticus abhors crawling things, we should see the abomination as the negative side of the pattern of things approved.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Fourth, anomalous events may be labelled dangerous. Admittedly individuals sometimes feel anxiety confronted with anomaly. But it would”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “be a mistake to treat institutions as if they evolved in the same way as a person’s spontaneous reactions.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Fifth, ambiguous symbols can be used in ritual for the same ends as they are used in poetry and mythology, to enrich meaning or to call attention to other levels of existence.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “To concl ude, i f uncl eanness i s mat t er out of pl ace, we must approach i t through order. Uncleanness or dirt is that which must not be included if a pattern is to be maintained. To recognise this is the first step towards insight into pollution. It involves us in no clear-cut distinction between sacred and secular. The same principle applies throughout. Furthermore, it involves no special distinction between primitives and moderns: we are all subject to the same rules. But in the primitive culture the rule of patterning works with greater force and more total comprehensiveness. With the moderns it applies to disjointed, separate areas of existence.”

Page 18, Underline (Blue):
Content: ” i f uncl eanness i s mat t er out of pl ace, we must approach i t through order. Uncleanness or dirt is that which must not be included if apattern is to be maintained.”

Page 18, Stamp (openStarred)

Page 18, Underline (Blue):
Content: “To recognise this is the first step towards insight into pollution. It involves us in no clear-cut distinction between sacred and secular.”

Page 18, Underline (Blue):
Content: “The same principle applies throughout. Furthermore, it involves no special distinction between primitives and moderns: we are all subject to the same rules.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s