Dant, Tim and Bowles, David (2003) Dealing with dirt : servicing and repairing cars. Sociological Research Online, 8 (2). ISSN 1360-7804
This paper explores the significance of dirt in the work of technicians who service and repair private cars. Rather than being useful in understanding how dirt is dealt with, the historical and anthropological analyses of dirt are shown to be overly concerned with cultural significance and the idea that dirt is no more than ‘matter out of place’. Such accounts suppress the more common sense approach that dirt is unpleasant to human beings and is to be avoided if possible. In work such as garage servicing and repairs, dirt has to be confronted and dealt with pragmatically, according to the consequences of its presence, rather than symbolically according to its cultural meaning. The writing of Sartre on slime provides a more persuasive explanation both for the ambivalence towards ambiguous materials of slime and dirt and for the moral connotations that attach to them. Everett Hughes’s account of a ‘moral division of labour’ in which distinctions are made concerning dirty work fits with some of the visible hierarchical distinctions in the garage setting. But it is the variability of practices, both between garages and between technicians in a similar setting, that suggests dealing with dirt is a practical matter that is not prescribed by ritual or cultural significance.
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