Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesdays With Mary Douglas

I came across this brief, but wonderful interview on youtube with British anthropologist Mary Douglas and thought it was worth sharing with you.

I wrote a little anthro nugget of information, a short paragraph, which sort of elaborates a bit more on what she is talking about (posted below):

This brief, but exceptionally telling interview on youtube with Mary Douglas reveals quite a bit about this distinguished British anthropologist. Associated with the symbolic anthropology approach, Mary Douglas’ work focuses on the meaning that people give to their reality and how this reality can be observed in the behaviors and cultural symbols of that people. In the beginning of the interview she says that she was very interested in cognition and that this interest led her to look at cognition and society, specifically how the mind relates to the culturally constructed reality that it comes into contact with. From her research Douglas reaches the conclusion that, as she puts it in the interview, “the mind gets a lot of discomfort from seeing things that don’t fit the categories that people are using for thinking about them.” She mentions that this is Durkheimian and Maussian, since it is very structural functional, and in keeping with that approach Douglas in her works such as Purity and Danger argues that these fuzzy in betweens that don’t quite fit into binary social categories of distinction are automatically adopted into taboo and form ‘impure’ moral attitudes in the minds of people, or as she puts it in her book “taboo is a spontaneous device for protecting the distinctive categories of the universe… taboo confronts the ambiguous and shunts it into the category of the sacred”. In the interview she mentions that her interpretation of Leviticus focused too much on cognitive categories and failed to do what she intended: divert the intellectualist approach of the study of religion to a “behavioral intellectualist” approach that focuses on or emphasizes interactions through the use of symbols.

TimesOnline had a nice obituary dedicated to her, written two days after her death, which I recommend reading. She truly was an exceptional scholar and shining intellect of her time.

No comments: