Monday, May 21, 2007

Mary Douglas (1921-2007)

"[T]he anthropologist who took the techniques of a particularly vibrant period of research into non-western societies and applied them to her own, western milieu..."

Guardian: Dame Mary Douglas: Brilliant and prolific anthropologist famed for her social theories about cosmology, consumption and risk

Times Online: Professor Dame Mary Douglas: Challenging and wide-ranging social anthropologist whose ideas and influence reverberated far beyond her discipline

Although she was more of a structuralist than I would ever care to be, Mary Douglas was one of the first anthropologists I read and I still come back to her ideas. As undergraduates we were assigned Purity and Danger to read, and to get a sense of how current STS scholars are still using this work check out Benjamin Sim's article, Safe Science: Material and Social Order in Laboratory Work which explains laboratory work and scientific practice in terms of order and pollution. Outside of science and technology studies, it was Donna Goldstein's wonderful ethnography Laughter Out of Place that helped me better understand the potentially disruptive and revolutionary potential of humour--something Douglas argued in the mid-60s.

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