Mary Douglas interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 26th February 2006
0:00:05 Born in Italy in 1921; father in Indian Civil Service, a District Officer in Rangoon, Burma; mother died when I was twelve and sister, Pat, was ten; father, whom we hardly saw, took us over; had been sent home aged five to grandparents with who we lived for seven years; very formal upbringing; sent as weekly boarders to French covent in Torquay; before mother died she took us to Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton where she and her cousins had been, and handed us over knowing she was dying; very happy there
0:03:28 Hierarchical influence of both grandparent's home and convent; never felt parents had rejected us by sending us home as it was so usual at that time
0:06:16 Consciously religious when we went to the convent; grandparents marriage was mixed and grandmother was a staunch Protestant; had promised daughter to bring us up as Catholics so taken to Mass every week and taught the Catechism; first convent was very sectarian but the second was much more open-minded; Richard Griffith's book on sectarianism of French Catholicism in later nineteenth century
0:08:27 Experience of convent set the problems later addressed through anthropology; personal religion and anthropology; questions asked by biologist, Helen Spurbury, about virgin birth; anthropological discussion on the subject by Edmund Leach and others; own interest as a Catholic
0:15:29 At the convent had a series of brilliant teachers with Oxford backgrounds; every day we had a doctrine class where gloves were worn; on feast days wore white and white gloves; gloves were a sign of respect; loved the doctrine class as the nun was so enthusiastic; my favorite subject was English, did not like history and could not do maths or science; wanted to do social studies; Catholic social teachings based on Papal Encyclicals taught in all Catholic schools; should have done sociology at University but nuns thought it was anti-God and religion; they would never have sent me to the L.S.E.; from its founding, University College had no sociology as it was thought of as teaching socialism and revolution; was allowed to read P.P.E. at Oxford and lived in a house owned by the convent
0:20:56 Donald McKinnon taught philosophy, but it was a bad time because of the war; didn't do well as too mathematical; after Oxford, in 1943, went into the Colonial Office as I wanted to be involved in the war; had chosen it because of the Burma connection and had studied Colonial Constitutions at Oxford, but it was a backwater; stayed there for four years; Audrey Richards was there and at her party I met Bill Stanner, Phyllis Kaberry; Raymond Firth was also in the Colonial Office and he started me reading anthropology; converted by Audrey Richards' "Land, Labour, and Diet"; also read Margery Perham's work on Nigeria but Audrey's book more important; as a person she was rather scarry, very sharp, fierce and clever; Raymond Firth was charming and I read "We, The Tikopia" which I thought far too chatty; also read Evans-Prichard "The Nuer" which I preferred; division between Oxford anthropologists and the L.S.E.; Daryll Forde outsider as he had never been part of the Malinowski seminar group; Evans-Pritchard had been in the seminar but didn't like Malinowski as a person or his books; Meyer Fortes also described Malinowski's writings as 'higher journalism'
0:26:47 Attracted by Evans-Pritchard's work so wanted to go to Cambridge where he was at that time; turned down as there was no vacancy there and went to Oxford; Evans-Pritchard transferred to Oxford at the same time; initially he was my supervisor but found he was barred from taking D.Phil students; announced this in an embarrassing manner when Max Gluckman was present; did not want him as supervisor although he was the obvious person; decided on Srinivas but I only saw him a couple of times and never after I went to the field
0:29:56 At that stage Daryll Forde was very influential as head of the African Institute; they gave generous support to researchers who would write in the Ethnographic Survey of Africa series; I wrote on the "Tribes of Lake Nyassa Region" using Gluckman, Barnes and Mitchell's work; got paid enough to support own research; African Institute arranged fieldwork and got letters of advice from Daryll Forde; he was good and concientious, a very good head of department at University College; had a strong cockney accent; as African Institute was international he brought in foreign anthropologists; encounter with Levi-Strauss
0:33:16 Field work among the Lele of Kasai; first went to a convent at Basongo hoping to learn Lele but only one Lele spoke French and he had a cleft-palate; Lever Brothers had a palm cutting operation in Lele country and travelled on their lorries; struck by how handsome the Lele were and the beauty of their houses; first village was hopeless as too near the missionary station and the District Officer who feared something might happen to me; had a cook who took me to his village and lived there; accepted as a member of the village because of him; there was a missionary rest house in the village where I lived; in the first village frighened by what I thought was a leopard in the night; found to be a pig; villagers remembered the incident on return forty year's later
0:39:40 Doing total anthropology, starting with the shape of the huts and technology and work; took photographs with a box camera; was there for a year the first visit and four months on the second; returned to a job at Oxford while still on a scholarship for D.Phil; examined by Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes; have written a biography of Evans-Pritchard; rude to people he thought deserved rudeness, like Raymond Firth, but courteous to his students; rate him first with Levi-Strauss and Radcliffe-Brown for having completely changed the discipline; next Godfrey Lienhardt; thought Leach was a bad influence on anthropology; Meyer Fortes was stimulating and generous; equally important with Evans-Pritchard but a shyer personality; we were a small group with the Bohannans and Franz Steiner, later joined by Lienhardt; Julian Pitt-Rivers also there; like him I had wanted to go to Europe but the rest were Africanist and there was no support for him; his family had to pay for him to do research in Spain; reason for the focus on Africa was in the development of theory; in the Mediterranean area anthropology was not well established so the theory limited to honour and shame and no strong tradition of argument; very glad I went to Africa because of the Lele who were much the stongest influence on my life
0:45:57 Remember Godfrey Lienhardt as quizzical, witty and profound; think his book "Dinka Religion" is the best book on religion anthropologically until Gellner's "Saints of the Atlas"; now think Harvey Whitehouse is really brilliant; left Oxford because I got married; husband had just left the Civil Service and entered the Conservative research department; for the first five years lived in his flat in South Kensington; then with three children came here nearly fifty year's ago; joined the department at University College; Phyllis Kaberry, Harry Powell, and Peter Morton-Williams there, also Barnicote, a physical anthropologist; Daryll Forde was head of department; although an outsider as a geographer, he was a friend of Max Gluckman; together they started the A.S.A.; I taught the first year course which was very stimulating; would love to have had graduate students but we could never get many; those that did come were taken by Forde, and Kaberry who could offer both West Africa and Australia; felt intellectually deprived; gave everybody a copy of "Purity and Danger" hoping to get some response, but none except from Morton-Williams; also hardly ever invited to examine PhDs.
0:52:39 Reflections on the writing of "Purity and Danger"; wrote it when I had mumps and there was the immediate connection with contamination and infection; then thought of secularizing the idea of ritual purity; influenced by Durkheim, Robertson-Smith and Steiner, and own lived experience; hierarchy and matter out of place; have had to amend ideas of chapter on Leviticus; criticism of approach in "Purity and Danger" and failure to get across the intended message; holistic approach in anthropology
0:58:31 "Natural Symbols" written as a result of criticism of Basil Bernstein who reproached "Purity and Danger" for over-emphasis on universality of the idea of disorder; plea for those who thrive in disorder and don't recognise it as such