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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Purity, Danger and W. H. Smith

When I was an undergraduate one of my Professors was a great fan of Mary Douglas and was always urging us to read her Purity and Danger. Of course I didn't until much later and I then discovered a moderately interesting book about the social construction of order through the categorisations we use to pigeon-hole the mundane. Dirt, for example, is just matter out of place - which is a striking thought the first time you read it, but afterwards seems rather banal. But maybe that is the point. The categorisations we routinely use are in a sense the most powerful because they are the most banal. They just state what everyone knows and wouldn't think it worthwhile to question.
This stream of consciouness was prompted by something I saw in my local W. H. Smith (for non UK readers W. H. Smith is a large chain selling newspapers, books, stationary etc). Next to the rather full shelves labelled Biography - mainly containing the autobiographies of sportsmen and C list celebrities - were the equally full shelves of a section labelled Tragic Life Stories. Clearly market segmenters have identified a new type - one who gets up in the morning and rushes out to their local bookstore to fill up on the latest installment of human misery. I think there is something vaguely creepy about that.

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