As Mary Douglas has evocatively suggested, “dirt is matter out of place.” Concentrating on an example or examples relating to health, hygiene and/or the body, write an essay that illustrates the meaning and significance of this statement.
What is dirt?
The essay brings about the discussion of the statement “Dirt is a matter out of place,” and relatedness of the topic with the health, hygiene and the body. It is stated as what is considered as dirt in any given society, in any matter is treated to be out of place. Dirt is considered a principle that means to arrange culture. If dirt is a matter of concern for cultural bias, then the question for who will clean up the dirt becomes an important concern for the social organisations. The essay further describes about the meaning, significance, of the statement and the way it influences the health, hygiene, and the human body (Fietje and Stein, 2015).
The statement given in the essay, “Dirt is a matter out of place” by Mary Douglas in her book, ‘Purity and Danger: An analysis of concept of Pollution and Taboo, (1996) described about the relationship between dirt, cleanliness, and the organisation of space. In context to Douglas, dirty things are determined through bodily sensations, physiological and psychological processes. Dirt is ambiguous, and anomalous, which causes anxiety by disturbing classification systems and the normal ordered relations, through which a person understands the world, and the things. By the statement, dirt is a matter out of place, the author means that dirt must have passed out of the boundary or limit and is found in the place where it should not be. The dirt is expressed to be an ugly deduction from the good space, not by the virtue of occupying the space, but because it threatens to contaminate the good space surrounding to it. In this respect, dirt as an ugly object has some spatial powers that are found to be lacking in the other beautiful objects (Benthall, 2018).
Mary Douglas defined dirt as a matter out of place, through another line or saying, “A fried egg on the plate is fine, but a fried egg all over my hands is dirty.” By this statement, it means that dirt always acts as a by-product of creating order. It describes the meaning of creating a place for things, there will always be situations, and these situations will be found at those places where things are out of places. Fried egg in the plate is treated as fine, or considered normal, but a fried egg, which is spread all over, the hands of the person, might seem dirty (Smiddy, O'Connell and Creedon, 2015). Dirt has been related in concepts of architecture and the practices related to it, and dirt remains a topic of debate in these theories. Despite various descriptions of the term dirt, and the understanding in different contexts, it has been exclaimed that there is no thing such as dirt; it is all about perception and classification. The statement has a significant meaning in context to the various aspects such as health, hygiene and the human body related concepts and effects (Douglas, 2015).
Mary Douglas' view on dirt
Dirt in context to the health, describes that it is not the lack of cleanliness or health that leads to abjection, but what disturbs the identity, and the system. Dirt depicts more about the purity and impurity, and it applies to everything, food psychology, geography, politics, religion, class, all relates to purity and impurity. In terms of health and hygiene, dirty is much wider range than just dirt. It explains that any bodily excreta, saliva, vomit, faeces, and anything, which encounters them, is found to be dirty. In relation to the aspects such as hygiene, the statement relates to pollution, and sanitation, which affects the health of a human being, and acts as dirt, which is a matter out of place (Corburn, 2017).
Dirt is a matter out of place in context to health, hygiene, and body along-with cultural impacts. In relation to the health and issues in health of an individual, the presence of bacteria is somewhere treated as dirt, i.e. a matter that is out of place. Bacteria in the human body are active, alive, and constantly adapting causing harm to the health and hygiene of the individual. There is huge number of macrobiotic bacteria or viruses present in our guts or body, known through our faecal analysis disturbing the health and happiness. These bacteria acts as a dirt matter out of place that should be eliminated to sustain a healthy and happy life. Douglas described dirt as spatial and unique problem, as it does not relate to what the stuff or thing is, but where it is or where it has been placed. This determines whether it can be called, as ‘dirt is a matter out of place’ or not. Therefore, unwanted or inappropriate elements must be removed to eliminate impurity and sustain order of things at their places.
As it has been mentioned about dirt, that it is a by-product of ordering and classification of the matter in a systematic manner, and in this case ordering here refers to rejecting the inappropriate elements (Herzfeld, 2017). Rejecting things brings order and place things in their right places, as in human bodies rejecting the waste, or harmful substances. For an instance, dirt is only treated as dirty, when it is out of correct position. As like faeces, for an example is found to be known as dirty, but when it is inside our bodies it is not considered as a matter of dirt. Therefore, the above example identifies the meaning of dirt according to the nature of place, which defines about classification of dirt or waste depends upon the location of the objects (Reno, 2014).
Dirt in relation to the health and hygiene
Effects on the hygiene, leading to the health problems in the human body states about the issues or wastes caused due to environmental pollution. Pollution in the environment pollutes the surroundings resulting into several types of health problems. Living in contact of polluted air for long time, may lead to permanent health effects such as accelerated aging of the lungs (Viney, 2014). It further leads to diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and possibly cancer. Especially water pollution remains a major cause of acting as dirt and leading to negative influences on the health and hygiene of a human body (Wang and Yang, 2016).
Safe drinking water is a necessity for every human being, and plays an important role in life of every individual. Contaminated water thus, leads to many health issues and the reasons behind water contamination includes industrialization, affluent released from factories, radioactive waste, increasing population, leakage from the water tanks are the sources of water pollution. Bacterial, viral, and paralytic diseases occur from the polluted water such as cholera, typhoid, skin infection, issues that spreads through contamination in the water (Robin et al., 2017).
The statement of Douglas also relates to the factor of culture, or elements of culture that consist of politics, religion, language, and customs. Religion may also have an impact on the health of an individual, especially the physical health. Some of the cultural factors affect the health and hygiene, often treated as dirt, explaining that culture describes about the way individuals, think, behave, and their beliefs, value and attitude towards things. Discussing about the culture, it also describes about the varied nature and understanding of different cultures about health, health promotion, illness, diseases, and their treatment (Thompson, 2018). As what is acceptable in one, religion or culture may not be acceptable in other culture or other religions. When dirt is considered matter of cultural bias, the main discussion occurs as to whom is to clean up the dirt or mess created thereon (Fardon, 2018).
Egalitarianism, states that everyone is going to clean the mess, whereas fatalism describes that no one will take the responsibility of cleaning the mess. The members of the group or country are not bothered, and states that it will get dirty again. In this reference matter out of place is not dirt, it describes about the whole life. The culture following individualism will state that every individual is taking the responsibility to clean up the mess. This will ensure the proper hygiene and safety of all the individuals, therefore removal of inappropriate elements. Maintaining proper hygiene is must to ensure effective health and wellbeing throughout life (Benn, 2017).
Impacts of dirt and cultural factors
To conclude the above discussion on the topic of the essay Culture and Health, which explains about the statement ‘Dirt is a matter out of place’ describes about the prevalence and significance of the statement in this scenario. The statement explains the relationship of the dirt with the health, hygiene, and human body, also described about the culture-related aspects. Mary Douglas explored about pollution from an anthropologist point of view in her book, “Purity and Danger,” renewed the idea of the dirt given by William James. She described dirt as a spatial problem and stated that dirt disturbs the place or order of things. Douglas has also demonstrated pollution in her book, which caused hygiene related problems leading to bigger health issues. Hence, Douglas through her book attempted to clarify the meaning of the statement, ‘Dirt is a matter out of place”, and described the differences between what is sacred, and what is not, clean and unclean, in context to different societies.
Benn, S.I. (2017) Egalitarianism and the equal consideration of interests. In equality (pp. 61-78). United Kingdom: Routledge.
Benthall, J. (2018) MARY DOUGLAS AND THE DIVERSITY OF PURITY FRAMEWORKS. Anthropology Today, 34(2), pp. 27-28.
Corburn, J. (2017) Urban place and health equity: critical issues and practices. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(2), p. 117.
Douglas, M. (2015) “Risk and Danger,” Risk and Blame, Mary Douglas, 2002. In Disaster Prevention (pp. 15-27). United Kingdom: Routledge.
Fardon, R. (2018) IMMORTALITY YET? Or, the permanence of Mary Douglas. Anthropology Today, 34(4), pp. 23-26.
Fietje, N., and Stein, C. (2015) Culture and health. The Lancet, 385(9968), p. 601.
Herzfeld, M. (2017) Purity and punning: political fundamentalism and semantic pollution. In Purity and Danger Now (pp. 46-63). United Kingdom: Routledge.
Reno, J.O. (2014) Toward a new theory of waste: from ‘matter out of place’to signs of life. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(6), pp. 3-27.
Robin, C., Perkins, E., Watkins, F. and Christley, R. (2017) Pets, Purity and Pollution: Why Conventional Models of Disease Transmission Do Not Work for Pet Rat Owners. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(12), p. 1526.
Smiddy, M.P., O'Connell, R., and Creedon, S.A. (2015) Systematic qualitative literature review of health care workers' compliance with hand hygiene guidelines. American journal of infection control, 43(3), pp. 269-274.
Thompson, M. (2018) Cultural theory. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Viney, W. (2014) Waste: A philosophy of things. United Kingdom: A&C Black.
Wang, Q. and Yang, Z. (2016) Industrial water pollution, water environment treatment, and health risks in China. Environmental Pollution, 218, pp. 358-365.
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