Mary Douglas delivers the Terry Lectures 2003 in streaming audio


In this series of four public lectures delivered at Yale University in October 2003, anthropologist Mary Douglas explains the thinking behind her work on ‘ring composition’. These are the lectures on which her book Thinking in Circles (Yale University Press) is based.

Writing in Circles: Ring Composition as a Creative Stimulus

In the crowd, does everyone really think they’re king?

Sign at Brixton AcademyThe idea is suggested in a Wall St Journal article about mass sporting events. Why do the Americans sit down when the British (historically) stand up? The answer: in the US a universal sense of  nobility and in the UK a tradition of wallowing in mud. Apparently.

The article is interesting because it points out the connection between cultural norms and the concept of risk. In the UK, the author observes, safety issues were used to enable a shift away from standing and towards seated-only stadia. But it would be interesting to see what clear evidence there is for this common claim that standing at sports events is more dangerous than the alternatives. The Bradford fire of 1985, for instance, (see below) wasn’t caused by people standing. The dangers there related more to terrible stand construction, to the locking of escape exits, and to the lack of any evacuation plan that could work. I’d tentatively suggest that this is an example of risk being used as the occassion for a particular cultural bias to argue its case. If you can successfully argue that the alternatives to your plan are ‘just too risky’, you’ve won the argument. Remember, though,  that what from one cultural perspective seems like a threat, from another angle is no threat at all. I think people actually like whatever sense of edginess there is to standing in a crowd of thousands. For many the risk is worth it.