Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo” as Want to Read:
Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  945 ratings  ·  45 reviews
In Purity and Danger Mary Douglas identifies the concern for purity as a key theme at the heart of every society. In lively and lucid prose she explains its relevance for every reader by revealing its wide-ranging impact on our attitudes to society, values, cosmology and knowledge. The book has been hugely influential in many areas of debate - from religion to social theor ...more
Paperback, 244 pages
Published November 15th 2002 by Routledge (first published 1966)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Purity and Danger, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Purity and Danger

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,136)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Dec 28, 2010 Shinynickel marked it as to-read
Off this review:

Your final book, Purity and Danger, is considered a key text for social anthropology students. Why?

It’s regarded as quite old-fashioned now and the author Mary Douglas, who died recently, somewhat recanted on many of the things that she said. But, for me and still for many of my students, it’s a book that really opened my eyes. It showed me that you could theorize about things that you had always taken for granted and thought didn’t need e
This book is, of course, a classic. I mean, what does one really say about a classic of structuralist anthropology? The imprint of structural linguistics on this one is so fresh that at times it almost seems like a quaint historical document more than anything else. In any event, there's an easy mastery in the way that Douglas performs what is now a fairly standard maneuver. Find an opposition upon which some kind of subordinating value is founded, demonstrate that each side of the opposition ne ...more
It is an anthro classic about the meaning of purity and pollution. Douglas argues that many of the taboos regarding "polluted" or unclean objects in various societies have more to do with moral and symbolic impurity rather than actual hygiene. For one thing, she argues, things that cannot be neatly categorized into some preexisting and understandable category, are often considered impure /taboo/ dangerous.
Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger? Oh, you mean the Bullshitter's Bible? Yes. I've read that. If by "read" you mean I've skimmed through it to find points vague enough to support a thesis imposed on me by a deconstructionist advisor, then yes, I've read it. The beauty of this text is that one can use it to back up pretty much anything. I used it to show that the Holocaust arose from an "either/or" thinking that sparked terror at the idea of the Jew as simultaneously German and non-German. I recent ...more
Filled with lively British wit!

The biggest assumption: everyone, everywhere, all the time, wants order in the world. That's what people do: whip up systems from molehills.

The next bigger assumption: everyone, everywhere, all the time build those systems from symbols. (cf Southwest Airlines: A Symbol of Freedom).

Analagous to L-S's culture always striving to overwrite nature - frameworks of "purity" protect, integrate, neutralize "danger."

Chapter one gives you a fun ride down memory lane - remembe
Isn't it funny how shaking hands and introductions can be considered disinfectant rituals? There is no Immunity to mis-recognitions, polite errors , blasphemy of place, undertow jaw of evil, overbite of hierarchy. Fumigated release from the other's dying grasp, senseless encoded orders having been imparted. Also a good way to catch a common cold. A bacterial lease on life. Namesakes.
Aug 30, 2011 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2011
The most surprising thing about reading Mary Douglas's 1966 anthropological classic Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, was my sheer enjoyment of the thing. This is a theoretical work, written less for a lay audience than for Douglas's fellow cultural anthropologists, and yet her style is clean and lively, with barbs of wit to keep things interesting. ("This fashionable presentation," she quips at one point, "was supported by no evidence whatever.") As a result, it ...more
Some faults in methodology (Chapter 3, ‘The Abominations of Leviticus’), but these are acknowledged in the foreword to the 2002 edition (underlining the need to read around the work itself when approaching theses that can be considered classics). Interesting concepts of the interplay between the taboo and the holy, morality and cleanliness, purity and danger; how societies frame their worlds. Readable, with occasional humorous comments from the author. A good look at literary defamiliarization - ...more
A really cool thesis: all societies have some sort of purity code inherent in their system and that code is not primarily utilitarian--keeping away demons or germs--but symbolizes the order of the community. Dirt is always going to be arbitrarily defined by the society's notion of disorder. Like the cuisine book, this makes Leviticus just a little more understandable.

After the thesis and some cool explication, it quickly turns technical and thus unbearable for a non-professional.
This may be an entertaining book if you want to read stories of foreign cultures and habits, but I'm slightly racist (only a little teensy bit though) so I found this annoying.

This book remains admittedly too much a collection of notes and readings rather than a tightly-knit thesis. Overall, its chapters move along fitfully, but Leviticus insights and the closing "The System Shattered & Renewed" retain their own relevance for today.
Sara Larson
Wonderful book!

This text is great for understanding why (and when)items are considered dirty or taboo. Why is hair on your head considered clean but the same hair fallen from your head considered dirty or gross? Simply because the organization system of the mind sees it as matter out of place!

Great for understanding societal rules, such as those for Jews found in Leviticus, and our own uneasiness towards cultural taboos.
Brett Salkeld
If you've ever suspected that "primitive" peoples aren't nearly so stupid as we are often lead to believe, this book is a great place to start. Not only does Douglas highlight the logic inherent in all kinds of cultural systems, she shows that moderns are just as prone to developing such systems as pre-moderns. A great account of human nature.
outdated, problematic methodology for an anthropological study, but faults acknowledged by the author in the foreword to the new edition. still, an interesting and insightful exploration of a previously untouched subject.
Despite its many detractors, I found this book fascinating. It gave me a new outlook on many women's issues, particularly in studies in religions. It's a must have for anyone wanting to explore purity/pollution taboos.
This is one of my favorite anthropology books, even if I would have preferred less on the Old Testament and more information about contemporary societies and the little taboos of everyday life.
I read this book way back in University and it changed the way I have thought about culture ever since. Not an easy read, but interesting and extremely worthwhile.

Simon Lavoie
«Les Anglais finirent pas comprendre l'enseignement de Durkheim lorsque des travaux de qualité, entrepris sur le terrain, eurent élevé leurs connaissances à un niveau que Durkheim avait atteint d'emblée dans son fauteuil.»
Agathe Schwaar
One of the most important you need to have on your book shelf if you are interesting in Anthropology.
I understand the need for this book, and it certainly works against Frazer's anthropological system and the problem inherent in a modern viewpoint that valorizes our own society as the pinnacle of evolution over and against "the savage." However, it's still very much a product of the Modern age, and Douglas thinks she's doing science--objective work that validates itself over against the undifferentiated, subjective viewpoints of the others. Etc.

It's worth reading, but there's a lot better stuf
Sadiq Bhanbhro
A through and sound analysis of risk and pollution.
An easy to read book that explanes everything about the pollution and taboos in societies.
Rebecca Lartigue
Yeah, my reading's been all over the map this summer: Vikings and Old French romance and Roman emperors and Emily D., oh my! Now anthropology and the "nonfiction novel" that Capote claims to have invented. Anyhoo: I've certainly read a lot *about* this classic but I'd never looked at it myself. I'm skimming the "lit review" parts about anthropology / religious studies debates of the 1800s to get to the examples and conclusions, which are interesting.
Required reading for an anhropology class. I remember reading this being partly fascinated and partly bored. But this is one of those books that I find myself quoting a lot and using Douglas's analysis to make sense of different situations and the way people react to some things. It has been more influential than I would have thought.
michael spencer
Aug 10, 2007 michael spencer rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Well, everyone; but especially anthropologists, politic, and moralist types
An absolute contemporary classic of anthropological study, Douglas shamelessly chides and yet rationally justifies common conceptions about the need for cleanliness and psychological differentiation based upon outward appearance. A must read for any looking to support a moral code of character over superficiality.
It reads as an early draft in which Douglas is still trying to figure out exactly what she wants us to come away with. There are some intriguing ideas about the nature of purity and order and social structure, but nothing really feels complete.
This book is a classic! A classic that made me feel stupid! And yet - as dumb and uneducated as I may have felt while reading it, I am smart enough to see how broadly many of the issues argued can be applied to other research and topics. Awesome.
Nov 19, 2011 Kijan added it
Lucid and compelling. Interesting implications for ideas about cultural and racial differences along the axis of order and disorder. Her book, Leviticus as Literary Text is a good follow up to her methodological errors in chapter three of this text.
It would be presumptuous to review this. But other people's reviews are hilarious!
"I'm a little bit racist"
"Bullshitter's Bible"
lots of glowing talk about Leviticus, which is the part she specifically takes back and says she was wrong about...
Yeah, yeah, it's a little outdated, and one could certainly deconstruct a lot of her assumptions. But you have to admit the whole purity/danger idea is pretty powerful, especially in her analysis of Leviticus. Good stuff here.
I used to reference this book constantly. My father got me to read it, and Mary Douglas' notions of the taboo and the holy have stuck with me, and also, this was the first place I ever was introduced to William James.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 71 72 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies
  • The Interpretation of Cultures
  • The Savage Mind
  • Outline of a Theory of Practice
  • The Forest of Symbols: Aspects Of Ndembu Ritual
  • Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography
  • Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande
  • Argonauts of the Western Pacific
  • Patterns of Culture
  • The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
  • Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil
  • The Rites of Passage
  • Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization
  • Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing
  • Europe and the People Without History
  • Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (updated with a new preface)
  • Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation
How Institutions Think Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology The World of Goods Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers Leviticus as Literature

Share This Book

“Without the letters of condolence, telegrams of congratulations, and occasional postcards, the friendship of a separated friend is not a social reality. It has no existence without the rites of friendship. Social rituals create a reality which would be nothing without them. It is not too much to say that ritual is more to society than words are to thought. For it is very possible to know something and then find words for it. But it is impossible to have social relations without symbolic acts.” 6 likes
More quotes…