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Return to Book Page. Preview — Rules and Meanings by Mary Douglas. First published in , Rules and Meanings is an anthology of works that form part of Mary Douglas' struggle to devise an anthropological modernism conducive to her opposition to reputedly modernizing trends in contemporary society. The collection contains works by Wittgenstein, Schutz, Husserl, Hertz and other continentals. The underlying themes of the anthology are the First published in , Rules and Meanings is an anthology of works that form part of Mary Douglas' struggle to devise an anthropological modernism conducive to her opposition to reputedly modernizing trends in contemporary society.

The underlying themes of the anthology are the construction of meaning, the force of hidden background assumptions, tacit conventions and the power of spatial organization to reinforce words. The work serves to complement the philosophers' work on everyday language with the anthropologists' theory of everyday knowledge. Get A Copy. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 6. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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Douglas Laycock | University of Virginia School of Law

Your browser is blocking automated playback. Please click here to start media. Hugh Pickering and Tom Rice. Table of Contents. Noise has been a subject of deep fascination to those working in the interdisciplinary field of sound studies for a helpful overview see Novak Due to its subjective and political nature, formal attempts to define noise have had limited success. In the early twentieth century, for example, jazz was considered barbarous, uncivilized noise Moore , and in more recent times hip-hop and punk have been similarly described.

In , she thus set off to the Belgian Congo to study a matrilineal society of the Kasai River region: the Lele.

She ultimately chose the latter because funding was available and the region, due to its climate and stability, was seen as easier going. Yet its polyandric matrimonial rules allow some village women to have multiple husbands. She discovered a social world that was completely different from the one she knew, a society with little hierarchy, but which functioned. She defended her thesis in , though she did not publish The Lele of Kasai until the early s. The work is something of a classic, in the way it deals with the production and distribution of wealth among clans, the detailed description of matrilineal organization and the role of aristocratic clans in the power structure, and the place of marriage in the alliance strategies between clans and the practice and supervision of witchcraft.

Already, her approach had broken with functionalist habits.

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It also distinguished itself from the idealism of French ethnology, centered on mythology and symbolic systems. Yet it also harbored the potential for a deeper critique.

Douglas was particularly drawn to debates over their classificatory functions. She tried to show how groups attempt to marginalize those who do not respect certain norms or who do not fit into commonly recognized classifications.

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This made it all the easier for her to emphasize the dynamics of change resulting from exclusion and reintegration. The importance that Douglas attaches to the cult of the pangolin is indicative of her interest in exceptions that appear to disobey the social order and the institutions charged with expressing its principles. Indeed, this little creature seems to contradict most animal categorizations.

The pangolin is a scaled anteater that climbs on trees. The female lays eggs, nurses her young, and gives birth to only a single offspring at a time. Douglas was interested in the taboos that are applied to this animal, and her analysis made it possible to find method in the madness. She observed how, for the Lele, relations between spirits and nature and between the forest and human beings are forged through the mediation of wild animals, notably in the ways that honoring them was tied to female fertility and successful male hunting.

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Implicit Meanings

The influence of Franz Steiner , whose teaching Douglas followed, led her to examine the contradiction between negative and positive connotations associated with prohibitions and sacrificial rites reserved exclusively for initiates. An entire economy of relationships between social groups, clans and territories, the young and the old, and men and women could in this way be glimpsed. Four years later, with Natural Symbols , she began a systematic examination of the effects of the elementary forms of social organization on behavior and modes of thought. A few weeks before she accepted his invitation to come to New York, Aaron Wildavsky was suddenly forced out of the presidency of the Russel Sage Foundation, which complicated her stay At Northwestern University , near Chicago, she taught in the department of religious studies while she was still working on the problem of risk.

It was only during her final years as a visiting professor in Columbia that her scholarship, which at the time dealt with the Bible, was on a par with her institutional position and that she finally seemed to blossom in the academic world. Douglas defended, moreover, a rather classical vision of anthropology as a human science rooted in universalistic values for which everything in the minute details of daily life could serve as a primary source, as long as they were taken seriously.

As we have seen, her fieldwork with the Lele marked the young woman deeply, but the post-independence situation in Congo and then Zaire, under Mobutu, prevented her from returning.

Mary Douglas

Thus she had no choice but to go back to her field notes, on the pangolin, for instance, and to compare it with other observations of other kinds. Encouraged by the success of anthropological theorizing, notably among the structuralists, she incorporated these insights into reflections that were even broader in scope.

Two books were born from these late-sixties reflections. Widely discussed and criticized upon its release, Natural Symbols does not contend that symbols are natural, and thus legitimate, but, in a constructivist vein, maintains to the contrary that they are the product of social processes of naturalization. Douglas worried about the denigration of the most ordinary rituals of social and religious life in western society in the s, as much in dissident political movements on the left as in the modernization of the Catholic Church after Vatican II.


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Beginning with Natural Symbols , Douglas based her comparisons on full-fledged studies of consumer practices in the s, risk perception in the s, and religious texts in the s, to put things schematically. This work on British and American society, undertaken in collaboration with economists and political scientists, resulted in numerous publications that established her reputation in communication studies and political science, as well as sociology.