The Difference between Our Modern and Primitive Ideas of Dirt and Purity as to Mary Douglas – Book Report/Review Example

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The paper “ The Difference between Our Modern and Primitive Ideas of Dirt and Purity as to Mary Douglas” is an intriguing example of book review on anthropology. As an anthropologist who is greatly recognized for her studies in areas of social anthropology, Mary Douglas’ s book “ Purity and Danger” was first published in 1966. Her main field of concern and study had a great focus on both religion and symbolism. She developed fieldwork and research in the Congo on its claimed highly pollution-conscious cultural setting where she started looking for a systematic approach.

In this book purity and danger, her analysis is more on the ideas of pollution and taboo. She highly considered the different cultures from a structural point of view and also with some insight from Gestalt psychology. Mary’ s main aim was to keep off a limited explanation in regard to the phenomena and its relation to the entire structure. To be able to drive her point home, she puts it down in ten chapters of her book which include: Ritual Uncleanness, Secular Defilement, The Abominations of Leviticus, Magic and Miracle, Primitive Worlds, Powers and Dangers, External Boundaries, Internal Lines, The System at War With Itself, The System Shattered and Renewed through which she fully expounds on the subject.

From her argument, we can, in general, derive that the terms such as abominations, punishment also restriction which represent the power present in social boundaries but notes that the dangerous things may have within themselves the power that is ultimately creative. The quality of her argument is improved by the discussions behind the true difference between primitive cultures and modern cultures and the wide presence of the symbolism of the body. A critical analysis of a contemporary aspect of 'our ideas of dirt'. There is an extricable confusion between defilement and hygiene.

Primitive ideas of dirt and purity are born from religious fear and the idea it blocks functioning of the mind which seems to be a wrong approach to understand these religions. Hygiene is a more excellent approach by contrast as long as it’ s accompanied by some self-knowledge. Hence dirt is essentially a disorder not to be viewed as an absolute but according to the eyes of the beholder. Dirt offends the order and eliminating it is a positive step to organize the environment to comply with an idea.

Dirt avoidance is a creative movement in an attempt to relate form to function; to make the unity of experience. This is the same light that should be used to interpret primitive ideas and prophylaxis. Symbolic patterns are worked out and publicly shared based on a central project of religion whose positive contributions lead to atonement. Pollution ideas work on two levels. The first being people trying to influence other people’ s behavior.

These beliefs reinforce social pressure. The ideal order of society is guarded by dangers which threaten transgressors. These dangerous beliefs are as many threats in which one man coerces another as dangerous which he personally fears to incur by his own lapses of righteousness. Certain social rules defined by beliefs such as metrological disaster is an effect of political disloyalty. The other level is that pollution ideas relate to social life. Hence societal order is symbolized through sexuality. Sexual dangers are therefore interpreted as symbols of the relation between parts of the society expressed through symmetry and hierarchy which apply in the larger social system.

Pressures on boundaries and margins of the primitive society have ideas such as separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function is to impose a system on an inherently untidy experience. Only through exaggerating the differences that a semblance of order is created. The ideas of purity and impurity in the primitive culture may seem timeless in existence can be supposed to continually modify and enrich them.


A., W., n.d. Filth: Dirt, Disgust and Modern Life. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.

Beall, J., 2006. Dealing with dirt and the disorder of development: managing rubbish in urban Pakistan. Oxford development studies, 34 (1). pp. 81-97.

Douglas, M., 1966. Purity and Danger. ARK 1984 ed. New York: Routledge.

Douglas, M., 1975 “Pollution”, in M. Douglas (ed.), Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology, London: Routledge, 47–59, 51.

Douglas, M., 2002. Purity and Danger: An analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Routledge.

Duschinsky, R., 2014. History and Anthropology. 2014 ed. London: Routledge.

Fardon, R., 1999. Mary Douglas: an intellectual biography. London: Routledge.

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