The purity of dirt: Revisiting Mary Douglas in the light of contemporary consumer interpretations of naturalness, purity and dirt

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Food consumption and risks associated with it have changed substantially since the 1960s, yet the interpretation and conceptualization of ‘purity and danger’ have not evolved very much since Mary Douglas’ seminal work on the topic. In this study, we present an empirically based contemporary interpretation of purity and danger in relation to the consumption of food, dietary supplements and health-related everyday routines. Drawing on qualitative interviews from two recent Danish research projects, both situated within the field of consumption, we find that consumption choices are motivated by a (diffuse) sense of danger and anxiety about bodily contamination, resulting in a striving for purity. But in contrast with what was observed by Douglas in the 1960s, today’s purification strategies do not stress hygiene and sterility. Instead they focus on naturalness, even though ‘natural’ products are known to incorporate objectively dirty and non-sterile elements.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)179-196
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ID: 245670374