Purity and Danger


Douglas claims that the book is “a late blow struck in the battle which anthropology in the 1940s and 1950s was fighting against racism.” What characterized this “battle,” and was it within or without the field itself? Why this time period?

Are all anthropologists social constructionists, or have we just been reading a lot of those that are?

Juxtaposition between psychological understandings of cultural practice and sociological/cultural ones; can we flesh this out? Is this understanding a ritual from an individual’s perspective, analyzing it as their own personal beliefs and linking these beliefs to their overall cosmologies versus placing the ritual in a cultural context, in which it is instead a method of mass cultural control?

How can we apply Douglas’s insights to medical ritual? How can I apply them to conceptions of pollution around Eureka Springs?
Could use this to analyze the separate spring for ES’s African American citizens.
The water, in the 1890s, began to be marketed as “pure” — could I take this framework and flip it to look at the opposite of pollution? Disease was understood (by some) as a blockage, an anomaly, in the healthy system, and the pure springwater was supposed to cleanse it by breaking down the dirt and flushing it out.
Pathological modernity as a transgression against the body’s natural proclivity to balance and maintain itself. Nature as punisher for transgressions of urbanization/industrialization (clogging up body) and ultimate savior (its waters as cleansing tonics).

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Disease as Framework

Medical historians, medical anthropologists, and other scholars concerned with a plethora of topics have written works centered around specific diseases; what comprises their arguments, evidence, and conclusions, however, varies greatly and begs the question, what exactly is the history of a disease, and how have scholars employed disease as a schema through which they analyze other topics? This essay will attempt to provide specific examples of historians (and anthropologists and literary scholars) using illness as a framework, and it will elucidate the benefits, drawbacks, and consequences of such work.

Few medical historians would argue with the statement that a disease is a constructed entity. The biology of an illness constitutes only a part of its meaning to the society from which it emerged. Oftentimes, there are non-biological factors — “beliefs, economic relationships, societal institutions,”[1] to name a few — that also make up the concept that is a particular disease. Syphilis is a good case in point. The biology of the disease is fairly standard; it is a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can become quite serious. Because of the way that it is transmitted, however, syphilis has garnered a scandalous reputation and has been associated with sin since its appearance in Europe in the late 1400s. The way the disease was handled institutionally (syphilitics were often banned from hospitals or placed in homes amongst one another) and the way that sufferers experienced it (often shunned from society, and when treated at all, given needlessly harsh “remedies”), shows that it was, at least in the eyes of the religious societies it ravaged, much more than what its biological attributes would suggest.[2]

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