Mary Douglas

I’ve just received an email stating that Mary Douglas has passed away. I’ll post more information as I learn it.

Update: Thanks to our commentors, we now have obituaries from “The Times”: as well as the “Guardian”:,,2082786,00.html as well as a remembrance by “Daniel Miller”: at Material World. Many others are linking to many of the other resources on the web about Douglas so I will include here just the highlights, such as this “realtively thorough and up-to-date bibliography”: and another “video interview with Alan MacFarlane”:

Finally, it’s interesting to note that when I began googling around for confirmation of the email I received about Douglas, the first three blogs to cover her passing were all by biblical scholars.

Update: There is also an “obituary from the New York Times”: and one from “The Independent written by Adam Kuper”:

Update update: One more from “the Telegraph”:


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

4 thoughts on “Mary Douglas

  1. Just an anecdotal addendum to Alex’s note and these links:
    I got to know Mary Douglas a bit, years ago, over the several alternate semesters when she was a visiting professor (split between anthropology, sociology, and religion) at Princeton. I still tell students about the time she came to my four-walls-of-books office and, scanning for a half second, made an immediate beeline to the spot where her own books were shelved. There she pulled down, of all things, Rules and Meanings (a reader she edited — Penguin 1973 — of cross-disciplinary selections on the meanings of the everyday), declaring it of all her books her “favorite”! (I was speechless.)

    With selections from Wittgenstein, Garfinkle, Evans-Pritchard, Cage and others, it’s still “good to teach”. Douglas’s own epigraphic section introductions are real gems. For example, the epigraph to the very first section on “Tacit Conventions” goes like this:

    “How the moral order is known — how the inner experience of morality is related to the moral order without — this depends on hidden processes. Each person confronted with a system of ends and means (not necessarily a tidy and coherent system) seems to face the order of nature, objective and independent of human wishes. But the moral order and the knowledge which sustains it are created by social conventions. If their man-made origins were not hidden, they would be stripped of some of their authority. Therefore the conventions are not merely tacit, but extremely inaccessible to investigation. This book of readings is addressed to the question of how reality is constructed, how it is given its moral bias and how the process of construction is veiled. The dates of the selections are part of the theme and deserve particular attention. Over and over the same questions are taken up as if from scratch. The dates themselves show over fifty years how repugnant and easy to forget is Plato’s concept of the good lie, and how difficult to contemplate steadily our responsibility for creating our own environment.”

    I know that Douglas is often derided for her “grid/group” formulae and a certain political conservatism. However, it has always seemed to me that her actual work has a depth and radicalism that makes it quite applicable to critical projects. This epigraph — which I read as a provocation concerning “structure” and “agency” — stands for that flexibility. She followed Durkheim’s program through to what she took as the bitter end, to its logical conclusion — where it sounds an awful lot like a demystifying cultural constructivism — and she applied it not simply to everyone else’s constructs but to the author’s own.

    This is anthropological irony at its most productive.
    — Rena

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