International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Douglas, Mary (1921-2007)

Coordinated by Christine Laurière

CNRS (UMR9022 Héritages)

Mary Douglas (1921-2007) was the most influential British social anthropologist of her generation. Raised in the Catholic faith, she studied at Oxford. She worked at the Colonial Office before enrolling for a doctorate in anthropology under Evans-Pritchard. She did fieldwork with the Lele of Kasai (Belgian Congo), 1949-1950 and 1953. Professor at University College London for twenty-five years, she then taught for eleven years in the United States (Russel Sage Foundation, Northwestern University, Princeton). Influenced by the thought of F. Steiner, M. N. Srinivas, É. Durkheim and Levi-Straussian structuralism, her original and stimulating work is nourished by comparatism. Purity and Danger (1966) and Natural Symbols (1970) mark a turning point in her thinking on the classifications, rules and rituals shared by all human societies. Over the decades, she broadened her initial areas of interest (anthropology of religions and institutions) and published pioneering works on the anthropology of economics, consumption and risk. She studied the Old Testament at length. She is the author of an ambitious anthropological and sociological theory called “cultural theory”.

Keywords: Social anthropology | Structuralism | 20th century | Belgian Congo/Democratic Republic of the Congo | Comparison | Lele | Rituals | Food anthropology | Economic anthropology | Cultural Theory | Symbols | Classifications | Risk | Consumption | Biblical Studies | Institutions | Anthropology of religion | Evans-Pritchard | Émile Durkheim

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