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Monday, 26 January 2009

Matter out of Place

I am simultaneously explaining the anthropological concept of "Matter out of Place" (Douglas, sooo whenever)to RHB and attempting to lift her flagging spirits. It is a wet Sunday afternoon, and we move into this place next weekend.

"This has been a brilliant acheivement" I confidently declare. "Not many people have taken on projects as big as this and succeeded. I mean we might need to do a little bit of work after we have moved in, but look what we have achieved."

Mary Douglas, anthropologist, explained her notion of "Matter out of Place". Humans it seems like to categorize things. They like to have things described in categories so that they can organize and make sense of the world. This has been going on from the earliest times - just read the writings of Leviticus, in which was laid out for the early Jews descriptions and categories of things they could and could not eat, things they should and should not do etc. The abominations Leviticus described are things that do not fit into these categories and are therefore to be avoided. Douglas captured these notions brilliantly. Humans do not like matter out of place. Which probably explains the uncomfortable look on my medium sized partner's face as she examines the magnificent achievement I am describing. It looks like this ;

It should be mentioned that a day later it does look considerably different, and does include all the things one would expect in a kitchen, including floors, walls and a door. Some of the fripperies of modern life may be absent, but with magnificent take away food available only three minutes away, and showers in the University that wont cost us money who needs a cooker, washing machine, dishwasher, sink, or for that matter cupboards and countertops?

THe real reson it looks like this is that the building inspector made us redo some minor details (floor and roof construction), and these are now done. When he comes to visit, I let him say "Pass ! Good work" then challenge him on his previous conviction that all was not well in our state of Denmark. He grudglingly concurs that his decision was "marginal". In other words, on his previous visit to site, he did not understand how we had built the floor so he had ordered me to redo it according to how he did understand things. This is a clear exampe of Levitican thinking - blind obedience to categorization without understanding. Now however, he has gone away, and without admitting he was wrong, has looked up our methods of construction in a RECENT text book and discovered they are better than perfectly sound. The result is that I have wasted a week and my matter is all out of place.

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