Mary Douglas: Consumption codes, meaning structures and classification systems

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Mary Douglas was a central figure in twentieth-century British social anthropology. Although only one of her books was directly about the meanings and uses of consumption, I argue in this chapter that in the best tradition of the structuralist project as an all-purpose theory of culture, the core of her oeuvre constitutes a crucial – and in the context of contemporary consumption studies, a corrective – elementary resource for analysing diverse consumption practices and contexts. The influence of Douglas’s writing extended beyond her home disciplinary field and continues to be an important touchstone for social and cultural theorists generally. Educated at Oxford University, Douglas became part of the influential Oxford tradition in anthropology, having the eminent British anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard as part of her doctoral dissertation supervision team. Working within social anthropology, her influence and thinking extended from cultural anthropology into anthropologically grounded cultural and social theory in the middle to later parts of her career. In the latter half of the twentieth century, alongside the key French intellectual figure in anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mary Douglas is seen as a beacon of structuralist thinking and analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCanonical Authors in Consumption Theory
EditorsSøren Askegård, Benoît Heilbrunn
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781138648968, 9781138648975
ISBN (Electronic)9781315626093
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • consumption
  • consumer theory
  • social theory
  • anthropology
  • consumption studies


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