Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body

By Sue Scott; David Morgan | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Purity and Pollution: Body Management and the Social Place of Infancy

Anne Murcott


Introduction

'He's a sicky baby…even now, we have races him and me who's going to reach it first. Me to wipe it up and him to rub it in.'

'I won't give him coffee, I don't think it'd do him very much good really, because I don't have milk in it… You said you don't give him pork but you do give him lamb or beef. It's a bit rich… I think it's the only meat that, that will make me ill, so I suppose it makes me a bit prejudiced… I wouldn't give him curry, er I'd try him with just about anything really, unless it's very spicy…well I suppose you don't know how they're going to react'

'…carrot came right through…what, unchanged? Hm, straight through…chocolate pudding and it's black'

Anyone familiar with the care of the very young will recognize the concerns and discoveries expressed in these extracts from interviews with twenty young women talking about their babies. Here, care of the infant revolves around care of its body. Such care of the body-body 'management'-is an inescapable element of human existence left, of course, neither to chance nor to instinct. It is social as well as biological. Not only is the expression of human biological functions and needs culturally shaped and socially organized, but so too is people's awareness (whether a matter of active consciousness or of culture and symbolic expression) of those functions and needs. Their conceptions, thoughts and beliefs about the matter are also cultural products-and can be investigated as such.

The sociological/social anthropological literature in this area is uneven. Unsurprisingly there is much more on beliefs and mores surrounding the great, preoccupying but perhaps intermittent events of life-birth, illness, sex, death-much less, at least in the case of industrialized societies, about apparently unremarkable daily activities necessary for biological survival-eating, excreting and so on. Eating has received some recent sociological attention (Beardsworth

-122-

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