About 15 years ago I spent a couple of weeks in New York. My main interest was Manhattan, but my boss Dino, the owner of a Greek bakery in Denver, gav...moreAbout 15 years ago I spent a couple of weeks in New York. My main interest was Manhattan, but my boss Dino, the owner of a Greek bakery in Denver, gave me an errand to run in Queens, specifically in Astoria. Dino asked me if I'd pass out his business cards to Greek businesses in Astoria, the first place he'd lived upon arriving in the U.S. from Athens. I said sure. After arriving I spent only a few hours there passing out Dino's business cards, and stopping to eat a souvlaki sandwich and a slice of decadent galaktoboureko. I really don't remember much about Astoria except that it was very crowded and that there was the Greek word Skata (Shit) emblazoned in huge (Latin not Greek) letters across a billboard.
Queens is the most ethnically diverse area/county in the world. That in itself makes it interesting to me. Were I take another trip to New York I would definitely spend more time there. This book would be a great sort of guidebook to bring along. Lots of interesting facts and highlights of the many neighborhoods that make up Queens. (less)
I learned so damn much in general and about myself from these anthropological studies of dirt and cleanliness. The book was very challenging, sometime...moreI learned so damn much in general and about myself from these anthropological studies of dirt and cleanliness. The book was very challenging, sometimes tedious, but always fascinating (except for the extra tedious, dry, and boring Chapter 10: Mapping Sewer Spaces in mid-Victorian London).
I realized while reading this book, how my relationship with dirt - the idea of it, the impurity it symbolizes, germs, and the sensate physical stuff of nature, is fundamental to my identity and how I relate to and interpret the world around me. I realize how suspicious and uneasy I feel with anything or anyone I perceive as "not having any dirt" or as being overly concerned with cleanliness and purity. Reading Chapter 13: Dirty Foods, Healthy Communities? helped me understand why I feel this way. It seems that I might have more of a rural worldview than an urban one.
Chapter 13: Dirty Foods, Healthy Communities? studies the residents of a small rural village in England who drink raw unpasteurized milk. Drinking this milk is part of their identity as rural people. The villagers' rural lifestyle being more immediately dependent upon and in contact with nature than an urbanite's lifestyle shapes a more wholistic view of life. The villagers see embracing and immersing themselves in not only the positive aspects of nature, but also the negative ones, as beneficial and necessary to reaping nature's benefits. Accepting only the "good" aspects of nature does not make any sense to them, as the good and bad are intimately intertwined and form a whole. In fact, when it comes to nature, I don't think the terms good and bad have any place for them. The terms whole and not whole are more applicable.
The villagers regard the cleanliness and purity of the pasteurization process suspiciously because it makes the milk sterile, stripped of natural life, and thus unhealthy (not whole). They embrace and regard the impurity of unpasteurized milk, on the other hand, as healthy (whole). Though the villagers have been told that unpasteurized milk might contain E.coli, they drink it because they believe in the transformative powers of its natural life. They'd rather risk salmonella poisoning in the short run than risk being bereft of what they see as the healthful benefits of its natural vitality and wholeness in the long run. Besides, they don't know of any villagers who have had adverse reactions from drinking unpasteurized milk, and so really tend to doubt that the milk contains any dangerous bacteria. I have thought though, that it is possible that through generations of unpasteurized milk consumption the villagers have built up a resistance to E.coli, while outsiders without a history of drinking such milk could well become very ill from drinking it.
Although I've never drunk raw milk, and don't know if I ever would, and even though I have been an urbanite for all but one year of my life, I share the villagers' wholistic view of life. In general, I rail against sterility. Its lack of vitality and lack of offensiveness offends me as a living being. If a thing is alive it will no doubt offend or be negative in some context. The only way not to offend or or be negative is to be dead. I have difficulty understanding how the lack of life in the long run can be of benefit to life. Are sterile fixes beneficial in the long run or do they just keep one's body on life support while feeling dead and disconnected? Myself, I will take life that is negative over sterility. Besides, science has proven that too little contact with germs weakens nature's own fighter of bad germs and bacteria, the immune system. And all those chemicals we use because of our culture's obsession with getting rid of germs and bacteria?? They might be worse for us in the long run than the germs and bacteria themselves. I tend to think that we often only look at short term benefits (bandaid effects and profits?) and look too narrowly (with the clean laser beam of technology?) at problems. I believe this can affect not only physical life, but also one's psychological and emotional well-being.
"Dirt is matter out of place." - Mary Douglas from Purity and Danger According to this definition, what is considered dirty depends on context. Nothing is intrinsically dirty. Science does have a part in defining what is dirty or unhygienic, but science never exists in a vacuum. It is always situated within and influenced by the context of history and culture. Here are some interesting examples of beliefs about dirtiness and cleanliness from history, based on the science of the day:
In the 16th century bathing was considered to be dangerous to health because it let vital substances out of the body and dangerous ones in.
In the 18th and 19th century it was believed that dirty skin could be a protection against disease.
Until the mid-19th century in much of Europe, linen was cleaned by soaking it in stale urine, and the poor used urine to clean their bodies.
"Dirt is matter out of place" means that what is considered dirty is what does not conform to the rules of a given order or form. It is what is cast out so that a given arrangement of things is not "infected" by what is "out of place" threatening its functionality, inner coherence, and identity. It is akin to a bug in a computer program which must be gotten rid of lest it crash or at least severely curtail the program's intended function. Much of how we define dirt has to do with boundaries - "this is me and what I want to include in my world, and this is what I want to exclude."
Chapter 2: Domestic Workers and Pollution in Brazil is about the physical and symbolic division of masters and servants in Brazilian households. Having domestic servants in contemporary South America is commonplace. Middle and upper class houses and apartments in Brazil are actually designed and constructed with permanence in mind of the distinction between employers' areas and servants' areas, as if the class division was the natural order of things. The servants' areas are always hidden away from the eyes of guests, as if they were pollutants. Servants use separate bathrooms and separate dishes for eating, and their clothes are never washed with their employers' clothes. Servants cannot use common areas such as pools or fitness centers, and must use service entrances and service elevators in apartment buildings.
The masters' avoidance of mixing what belongs to them with what belongs to the servants is to ensure that they are not "socially contaminated" by their servants, and perpetuates the belief that there are intrinsic differences between their classes.
Some other things I learned from the book:
Dirt is a means of social classification. The more closely one works with dirt the lower their class. Higher classes supposedly have more important things to do than deal with dirt. I guess that according to the upper classes the lower classes do not have the intellectual, spiritual or emotional wherewithal, desire or refinement to do anything more lofty - everyone has their place after all...
The body, particularly the female body, is identified with dirt or pollution due to its being a permeable and not a closed system, and the denial of the body's permeability is a keystone of modern society. For corporeal feminists the male body is closed and stable, while the female body is open, fluid, and leaky. What might it mean for a society that doesn't value the open (intuitive?), the fluid (organic? natural?), and the leaky (emotional expression in the workplace maybe?!) What might this mean for women?
Though presented as rational, modern Western conceptions of dirt are constructed through symbolic systems equivalent to the superstitious practices attached to "primitive" religious rituals. - Jonathan Culler from Junk and Rubbish
Distinctions between dirt and cleanliness are used in racist constructions of others. Non-white and immigrant groups' habits and practices have frequently been labeled as unhygienic and used to justify denigration and the interference by dominant authorities in the most intimate areas of life...in post-Civil War USA Black Americans and newly arrived immigrants were subject to lessons...about 'American' standards of cleanliness - Ben Campkin and Rosie Cox
An artist in London named Moose creates what is called "clean graffiti." He writes slogans on dirty public surfaces using high pressure cleaning hoses. So is what he does vandalism or cleaning? Apparently his confusing the distinction between the categories of dirty and clean has caused some debate in town councils as to whether or not he should be allowed to continue creating his art.
Chapter 7: Dangers Lurking Everywhere: The Sex Offender as Pollution poses questions and concerns about sexual offender notification laws, registries, and zoning laws. A number of high profile cases involving the abduction, rape, and murder of children by repeat sex offenders spawned a series of laws meant to protect children and contain the mobility of sex offenders within high density areas. Between 1989 and 1999 laws were created that required sex offenders to notify authorities of their address any time they moved, made that information easily available to the public in sex offender registries, and required that sex offenders live a certain distance away from schools, churches, and daycare centers. The specific regulations can vary greatly from state to state as to who is considered a sex offender and where sex offenders are allowed to live.
Some of the criticism of these laws points out that people who are often identified as sex offenders have not committed violent crimes or crimes against children, and thus many of those described as sex offenders do not fit the definition of those against whom the laws were meant to protect. In some states prostitutes are considered sex offenders. Another criticism is that most of the high profile cases that led to the creation of the sex offender laws were white on white crimes, yet blacks are more represented in registries than whites. Also, in most of these cases the crimes were committed in small towns and rural areas, yet the zoning laws affect mostly high density urban areas, which gives the impression that the problem is largely an urban one. Yet another criticism, and I think one of the most important, points out that statistically children are much more at risk of violence and sexual abuse in their own homes by a member of their own family than by a stranger. Only 3% of sexual abuse and 6% of of murders of children are committed by strangers. It is staggering to realize this!
Why then are we so fearful of outsiders when it comes to our kids, and why are so keen to monitor such a relative handful of people? Decisions seem not to be based on facts, but on emotions - fear, disgust and moral outrage. Legal scholar Mona Lynch said that in debates she examines, sex offenders are described as 'dangerous contaminators to all that is pure in America.' And in the collective imagination of the U.S., at least, we seem to consider the home and family as realms of purity and innocence that must be protected from the dangerous impurity, particularly that of the sex offender, which we see as residing outside home and family. Because the popular imagination holds this dichotomy between locations of purity/innocence and danger, it is harder to imagine that the danger can be located within the home and family.
The city is divided into zones of purity and zones of danger. Sex offenders, like the polluting refuse to which they are so often compared, are dispersed throughout the city and liable to circulate freely unless carefully contained - a mobile and pervasive threat. Mapping and zoning locates that threat and offers the fantasy that their mobility can be contained, that zones of purity, associated with the figure of the child, can be sealed off.
Here I can understand why, as mentioned earlier, the denial of the body's permeability (vulnerability)is a keystone of modern civilized society.
If sex offenders...operate in the social imaginary as guarantors of our civility, who can no longer simply be expunged from the city but must remain within and of it as foci for communal loathing, then zoning restrictions against such offenders supply us with a spatial metaphor for civility and safety. The fact that their locations are mapped offers the fantasy of a city whose dangers can be made entirely legible, as well as a complementary horror story in which such dangers are liable to pop out of every apartment building.
James Kincaid would say that such a horror story is a red herring whose perhaps unconscious intent is to distract us from larger, realer issues of racial tension and economic inequality.
Besides, do these notification and zoning laws really keep kids any safer when statistically there are more potential violent and sexual dangers to children from within the family than from outside it?
This chapter really opened my eyes to how easily the media and its chosen horror stories can manipulate our perceptions and subsequent actions. I realize how easily, without any critical thought at all, I just accepted these sex offender laws as a good thing that would help to keep children safer.