Home Sweet Messy Home: Managing Symbolic Pollution by Delphine Dion, Ouidade Sabri, Valérie Guillard

Hanging up our coat, tidying our desk, classifying our books… What meanings do these mundane practices convey? Extending Mary Douglas’s work, this article investigates tidiness from the angle of symbolic pollution. Based on photo-elicitation, it shows that similarly to symbolic pollution described at a macro-social level, tidiness depends on two conditions, namely a set of classifications and the dangerous transgression of these classifications. However, at a micro-social level, individuals negotiate boundaries between classifications in order to cope with symbolic pollution. Consumers define their domestic classifications through a juxtaposition of micro-practices, which does not necessarily create a hierarchically ordered system but enables them to avoid anomalies and transgressions. Furthermore, respondents are willing to break tidiness rules on specific occasions because the danger beliefs associated with transgression are context-dependent. This analysis of tidiness gives new insights into materiality, emphasizing the cultural meaning of ordering one’s possessions.

Delphine Dion, Ouidade Sabri, and Valérie Guillard, Home Sweet Messy Home: Managing Symbolic Pollution, Journal of Consumer Research, October 2014, Vol. 41, No. 3: 565-589.

DOI: 10.1086/676922

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