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The Construction of CleanlinessThough we may not realize it, most of the objects and spaces that we
interact with - from construction materials and office supplies to clothing and computers - have designed into them some scientific conception of cleanliness that focuses on variables that can be isolated and measured. Cleanliness is generally identified with germ-avoidance, and the result is that most designed objects and materials (soap, paint, concrete, plastics, sheetrock) contain antibacterials to help them stay "clean" by discouraging germ life. Cleanliness, however, is simply not reducible to a scientific or
biological notion like germ-avoidance, but is a rich concept that varies legitimately across cultures. The fact that our world is having this bias continually built into it has two undesirable consequences:
1. Objects and advertisements frame richer conceptions of cleanliness as ignorant
or primitive and disrupt accompanying cultural practices.
2. Environments populated by germ-resistant objects deprive us of healthy levels of exposure to pathogens and are breeding grounds for super resistant germs.
In light of these facts, Glawson provides recommendations for how manufacturers,
advertisers, and scientists working in the private sector ought to enrich both their
conception of cleanliness, and their designs.
George Michael Glawson
University of South Carolina