Tim Dant and
David Bowles (2003) 'Dealing with Dirt: Servicing and
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/2/dant.html>
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Received: 10/12/2002 Accepted: 25/4/2003 Published: 31/05/2003
The difference between us is not that our behaviour is grounded on science and theirs on symbolism. Our behaviour also carries symbolic meaning. The real difference is that we do not bring forward from one context to the next the same set of ever more powerful symbols: our experience is fragmented. Our rituals create a lot of little sub-worlds, unrelated. Their rituals create one single, symbolically consistent universe. (Douglas 1984: 70)
In a word, if we are to establish consciously and clearly a symbolic relation between sliminess and the sticky baseness of certain individuals, we must apprehend baseness already in sliminess and sliminess in certain baseness. (Sartre 1984: 771)
... immediately the slimy reveals itself as essentially ambiguous because its fluidity exists in slow motion; there is a sticky thickness in its liquidity; it represents in itself a dawning triumph of the solid over the liquid - that is, a tendency of the indifferent in-itself, which is represented by the pure solid, to fix the liquidity, to absorb the for-itself which ought to dissolve it. (Sartre 1984: 774)
I open my hands, I want to let go of the slimy and it sticks to me, it draws me, it sucks at me. Its mode of being is neither the reassuring inertia of the solid or a dynamism like that in water which is exhausted in fleeing from me... There is something like a tactile fascination in the slimy. I am no longer the master in arresting the process of appropriation. (Sartre 1984: 776)
Limit exposure to engine oils by avoiding contact, using safe systems of work and wearing protective clothing which should be cleaned or replaced regularly. High standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness should be maintained. (HSE 1997: 20 - Para. 71)
2 We studied five different garage settings that reflected different organisational size and structure: a car-brand dealership (DS); a high street service chain (SC); a medium sized independent garage (MI); a small independent garage (SI); and a single operator owner/mechanic (SO). For more details see the Car Care Summary Final Report.
3 It may be that there is a distinction between 'organic' dirt and 'inorganic' dirt raised by an anonymous referee of this paper; while both types of dirt are hazardous to health and they are not distinguished in the literature on rituals and cultural practices, the inorganic dirt of garage work did not produce the disgust amongst those working with it reported in Twigg's study of careworkers' 'dirty work' (2000: 141-149). Organic dirt often smells strongly and distinctively in a way that most people find repulsive, but inorganic dirt seldom smells offensively. Twigg suggests, following Miller (1997), that this may be because of a connection between disgust and the bodily boundary of the self; one is disgusted by the manifest dirt of other selves. However, to make an analytical distinction between organic and inorganic dirt would require a comparative study of different settings with different types of dirt. One of the first things that such a comparative study might explore are the different gender associations of work involving organic or inorganic dirt.
4 As one of the technicians in our study said when asked if his son, who helped him during school holidays, would join the business 'No, he wants a job where he can keep his hands clean'.
5 Most car owners do not undertake DIY servicing; only 3% of those with cars under 5 years old service them themselves and the figure only rises to 11% for cars six years or older (Mintel 2002).
6 In what follows our remarks are rather general: we are keen not to identify any individual or particular garage in what was a very small study with 'dirty' practices.
7 Julia Twigg (2000: 150-152) reports on the use of gloves by careworkers when bathing clients. This practice was much more consistently followed than by the garage mechanics and as well as keeping from direct contamination with dirt, had a symbolic significance in diminishing the intimacy of bodily contact during washing.
8 All the technicians we observed were men.
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