The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 21, 2001

Christine Firer Hinze
Pages 45-62

Dirt and Economic Inequality
A Christian-Ethical Peek Under the Rug

This essay argues that cultural practices surrounding body-related dirt form a crucial axis along which racial-ethnic, class, and gender disparities are illumined, and ideological supports for inequities in household and public economies exposed. Late-modern technological, information-based societies valorize nearly-disembodied freedom and demand high degrees of bodily control, while denying or scorning bodies' limits, messiness, and incorrigibility. This leads to subtle but powerful prejudices concerning bodily dirt, dirty work, and those who perform it. A contemporary concatenation of dualistic leanings and purity rules fuels these prejudices, which in turn help legitimate otherwise patently unacceptable social and economic inequities. Effective Christian analyses of economic inequality, therefore, will uncover and challenge distorted cultural assumptions concerning bodily-related dirt, and develop strategies for renovating them.