May 22, 2007
Dame Mary Douglas, 86, a Wide-Ranging Anthropologist, Is Dead
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Dame Mary Douglas, an anthropologist whose influence ranged beyond the traditional questions of her field to examine areas as diverse as kosher diets, consumer behavior, environmentalism and humor as she described how humans work together to find shared meaning, died Wednesday in London.
She was 86, and on May 8 she was made a dame commander of the British Empire. She was thrilled that Prince Charles took part in the ceremony, because he studied anthropology at Cambridge, her friend Alida Brill said.
The cause of death was complications of cancer, Ms. Brill said.
Dame Mary marshaled a vivid, pugnacious writing style in more than 15 books to describe the relationship between culture and social action, leading to her conclusion that knowledge is built by people communicating and responding to one another. “The colonization of each other’s minds is the price we pay for thought,” she wrote.
Drawing on her field experience in Africa and expansive reading, she saw little difference between “modern” and “primitive” societies, and sometimes drew startling conclusions. In the provocative 1982 book “Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers,” she and Aaron Wildavsky argued that environmentalists’ complaints reflected an antipathy toward dominant social hierarchies. The authors compared environmentalists to religious cults and superstitious groups of the past.
This train of thought reflects that of one of Dame Mary’s most discussed books, “Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo” (1966). She explored the relationships between dirt and holiness, impurity and hygiene, as means of defining one’s own group as distinct from other groups. She said foods were banned as unkosher because they did not fit into any definite category: pigs seemed ambiguous because they shared the cloven hoof of ungulates but did not chew cud.
Once made, such choices were a way to define Jews as different, she wrote. Rituals in the Roman Catholic Church, of which she was a lifelong member, similarly bind people together, she wrote. Therefore, she regarded the abolition of Friday abstinence from meat as a threat to people’s sense of solidarity with God and fellow Catholics. She found proof for her belief that collective interaction defined and governed personal behavior in the fact that people use a knife and fork even when eating alone.
Among many intriguing theories was her contention in a book written with Baron Isherwood, an economist, that buying things is a way people create meaning in their lives. She attracted admiration from biblical scholars for discovering a new way to interpret the literary structure of Scripture.
She pointed out advantages of hierarchical social forms and rejected the notion that magic was necessarily inferior to the ethical approaches that emerged from the Enlightenment. She said comedy was “the victorious tilting of uncontrol against control.”
Mary Tew was born March 25, 1921, in San Remo, Italy. Her parents had stopped off on their way home from Burma, where her father was in the Indian civil service. She was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in southwest London. She studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, then worked in the British Colonial Office during World War II.
She was intrigued by anthropologists she had met in the colonial office and returned to Oxford to study anthropology. Her teacher, mentor and role model was E. E. Evans-Pritchard, whose work on witchcraft in East Africa was groundbreaking. Dame Mary wrote a biography of him in 1980.
She did her own fieldwork in what was then the Belgian Congo, studying the Lele, a matrilineal tribe . In 1951, after a brief appointment at Oxford, she married James Douglas, who soon became a researcher for the Conservative Party.
Mr. Douglas, who went on to teaching and other jobs, died in 2004. Dame Mary is survived by her sons James, of London, and Philip, of Sydney, Australia; her daughter, Janet, of Surrey, England; and six grandchildren.
In 1951, she began teaching at University College of the University of London and in 1966 published her most celebrated work, the “Purity and Danger” book. One of the book’s more famous lines: “Dirt is matter out of place.”
From 1977 to 1981, she worked at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York, then taught at Northwestern University until 1985. She was a visiting professor at Yale and Princeton.
Her last book will be a posthumous compilation of essays by her father, many of them about fly-fishing. Her most recently published book, “Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition,” came out this year; it offers interpretations of texts structured in circular patterns like the Book of Numbers, Chinese novels and Zoroastrian poetry.
“Writings that used to baffle and dismay unprepared readers, when read correctly, turn out to be marvelously controlled and complex compositions,” she wrote.
Dame Mary remained active almost until her death. On April 28, The Spectator published an interview in which she used her own cultural theory to discuss Al Qaeda. She urged the United States to let the group express its views.
“If these people hate America anyway, and America attacks them, it increases the hostility of the enclave,” she said.
[Tomado de: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/world/europe/22douglas.html?_r=1&oref=slogin]
The ideas of Britain's greatest anthropologist give fresh insights into how society produces violent 'outsiders'
Wednesday April 4, 2007
"Douglas's thinking has particular relevance now, according to the Young Foundation, which arranged the lecture in conjunction with University College London. Her life experience of thinking about how societies organise themselves and how people relate to each other could offer insights into phenomena such as the rise of the far right and of religiously inspired terrorism. It is her group and grid theory that is particularly useful, argues Alessandra Buonfino, Young Foundation fellow, and this was the area on which last night's lecture focused.
The theory conceptualises four main types of social organisation co-existing in different degrees of dominance in every society; they are in conflict with each other in a constant dynamic. The four types are plotted on a graph with two axes. The horizontal axis represents the strength of group norms, such as family and local community, while the vertical axis represents the strength of the grid - those less intimate mechanisms of control such as laws, religious authority, economic forces and institutional disciplines.
The first type is strong on group and grid; this would be true of very hierarchical, tightly ordered societies in which tradition is very important. The second type is weak on both group and grid and is highly individualist, entrepreneurial, adaptive to constant change, and is dominant in the UK and the US. The third type is represented by a weak group affiliation but experiences high grid regulation; Douglas describes these as "isolates", and marginal groups such as asylum seekers would fit this model. The fourth type is the "enclave", which offers a strong group but weak grid regulation. Enclaves recruit among the isolates".
[Tomado de: http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,2049045,00.html]
Ver también: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article1805952.ece
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