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Working out Douglas’ aphorism: discarded objects, categorisation practices, and moral inquiries

Ablitt, Jonathan and Smith, Robin James ORCID: 2019. Working out Douglas’ aphorism: discarded objects, categorisation practices, and moral inquiries. The Sociological Review 67 (4) , pp. 866-885. 10.1177/0038026119854271

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This article aims to reconsider Mary Douglas’ well-known aphorism – that, ‘where there is dirt there is system’ – through the work of street cleaning in and the handling of detritus in the Upper Town district of Gibraltar. In ‘working out’ the aphorism, we adopt an ethnomethodological approach and focus upon the description of situated categorisation practices in the treatment of waste and dirt. The article is thus concerned with the methods in and through which objects are handled in the everyday work of street cleaning. We describe these practices across three sections concerned with: the seeing of waste as a situated accomplishment; the practical distinction between objects to be removed and those to be left in situ; and the seeing of categories through discarded objects. In this way, rather than explaining the practices of street cleaners via recourse to a notion of ‘system’, we recover the ways in which objects come to be treated, in a situated sense, as a potential ‘inference-rich’ resource for moral reasoning relating to residual categories and predicates of people and places. Keywords: public space, street cleaning, urban maintenance, ethnomethodology, categorisation practices, ethnography

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0038-0261
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 May 2019
Date of Acceptance: 26 March 2019
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2023 13:33

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