Biological Anthropology Section
Central States Anthropological Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Amber Wutich (Arizona State University)
Global sanitation efforts continue to strive to get millions to “be clean,” such as efforts that encourage hand-washing with soap. Yet, from Douglas on, anthropologists have clearly understood that “clean” and “dirty” are relative concepts. We clarify the forms of hygiene norms and the ascription of stigmatizing labels around norms violations using four global sites as our cases (Guatemala, Fiji, New Zealand, USA). Respondents completed standard surveys of disgust reactions and fear of infection and contagion, and open-ended interviews in which they attached social labels to imagined male and female hygiene norm violators (N=400). Based on survey responses on scales, perceived risk of infectability is statistically different across sites (highest in Guatemala, lowest in New Zealand), as is disgust sensitivity (highest in Fiji, lowest in New Zealand). Yet, based on coded interview segments, people rarely cognitively connect hygiene violations to disease risk. Rather, within and across-site analyses of coded interview segments show that hygiene violations are preferentially attached to -- and stigmatize most readily -- those already structurally disadvantaged. That is, what is categorized as “dirty” (as hygiene norms violation) and “disgusting” (stigmatized) falls along existing lines of prestige and social standing. Given that a central goal of public health campaigns in many lower income countries and communities is hygiene norm and behavior change, we discuss why this flexibility in the definition of what is “unacceptably clean” matters.