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O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z &

Douglas, Mary (1975). Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology. Routledge.


Introduction 1975
It seems hardly worth noting that some matters are deemed more worthy of scholarship than others. If there is any one idea on which the present currents of thought are agreed it is that at any given moment of time the state of received knowledge is backgrounded by a clutter of suppressed information. It is also agreed that the information is not suppressed by reason of its inherent worthlessness, nor by any passive process of forgetting: it is actively thrust out of the way because of difficulties in making it fit whatever happens to be in hand. The process of 'foregrounding' or 'relevating' now receives attention from many different quarters. But for obvious reasons the process of 'backgrounding' is less accessible. The chapters in this section focus on 'backgrounding'. They identify a number of different situations in which information is pushed out of sight. At one extreme it it automatically destroyed by reason of its conflict with other information. For example, the continuity of human with animal life is a piece of information which is consistently relegated to oblivion by all the social criteria which allow humans to use a discontinuity between nature and culture for judging good behaviour. The history of the behavioural sciences has been to reclaim bit by bit and make significant to us our common animal nature.
By a less extreme process of relegation, some information is treated as self-evident. The logical steps by which other knowledge has to be justified are not required. This kind of information, never being made explicit, furnishes the stable background on which more coherent meanings are based. It is referred to obliquely as a set of known truths about the earth, the weight and powers of objects, the physiology of humans, and so on. This is a completely different pigeonhole of oblivion from the first. Whereas the former knowledge is destroyed by being labelled untrue, the latter is regarded as too true to warrant discussion. It provides the necessary unexamined assumptions upon which ordinary discourse takes place. Its stability is an illusion, for a large part of discourse is dedicated to creating, revising, and obliquely affirming this implicit background, without ever directing explicit attention upon it. When the background of assumptions upholds what is verbally explicit, meanings come across loud and clear. Through these implicit channels of meaning, human society itself is achieved, clarity, and speed of clue-reading ensured. In the elusive exchange between explicit and implicit meanings a perceived-to-be-regular universe establishes itself precariously, shifts, topples, and set itself up again. [Opening passages, pp. 3-4]
Chapter 10. pp. 146-164.
  • A joke is a play on form. It brings into relation disparate elements in such a way that one accepted pattern is challenged by the appearance of another which in some way was hidden in the first. I confess that I find Freud's definition of the joke highly satisfactory. The joke is an image of the relaxation of conscious control in favour of the subconscious.


  • Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin (1977). "Where Is the Edge of Objectivity?" The British Journal for the History of Science, 10:1, pp. 61-66.
    • See also: Anthropological Cosmology and Anti-Demarcationism, pt. 1, March 8, 2010, blogged by Will Thomas. [1]


w: Implicit Meanings

Relevant works[edit]

  • Werner Abraham (1975). A Linguistic Approach to Metaphor. Lisse, Netherlands: Peter de Ridder Press. [^]
  • Ricoeur, Paul (1975). The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning in Language. Robert Czerny, Kathleen McLaughlin & John Costello, trans., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978. [^]

See also[edit]