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Spring rituals: the cultural significance of spring cleaning

by Sam Ladner on March 18, 2011 · 5 comments

in Blog, anthropology, class, discourse analysis, goffman, social networks, technology design, web analytics

Canadians love spring. If you’re not Canadian, I bet you’re thinking, “Of course they do; everyone does.” Ah but you do not “verstehen” Canada if you say such things. Indeed, I didn’t even “verstehen” Canada growing up on the West Coast — we didn’t even have snow!

Melting Snow courtesy of RicLaf on Flickr

Spring is approaching in Canada, and we feel it. The sun is shining on the frozen piles of yard waste, turning them into mucky, smelly goop. The last piles of snow are slowly melting, revealing the wonders of pre-winter litterbugs including old newspapers, old yoghurt containers, and of course, the ubiquitous plastic bag.

As winter recedes, spring reveals to us what we have happily, sleepily hidden for those long months inside. And it’s not pretty.

Spring cleaning is partly about cleaning up what’s left behind, but it’s also about moving our bodies and expanding the confines of our living space. We move out into our yards once again. We walk outside more frequently. We spend longer periods in semi-heated environments like the garage.

Spring cleaning is the ritual of reclaiming a greater amount of physical space for our human use. This is partly what’s underneath the venerable Canadian Tire’s new campaign called “Bring it.” The hardware retailer is evoking the Canadian ethos of battling the changes in season.

This man is cleaning his sexy, impractical sports car. He is also reclaiming his garage, which has likely be completely uninhabitable for the winter months.  He is ritually reclaiming this car and this space by clearing away the remnants of winter.

Spring cleaning is about re-asserting humans’ power over nature. In theoretical terms, this is one of the “value orientations” of cultural analysis.

Value Orientation Model

Spring cleaning, in a sense, is the ritualistic re-assertion of our power over nature. At least in Canada, it is!

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Categories: Blog · anthropology · class · discourse analysis · goffman · social networks · technology design · web analytics

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JoVE March 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Great analysis. Being an eastern Canadian, I always wondered about those fabric softener ads when we were kids that claimed to make your clothes smell “like spring”. Where I live, spring smells like dog poop and all the car exhaust that was trapped in the snow banks. Not something I want my clothes to smell like.


2 Sam Ladner March 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Exactly. “Like spring” usually smells pretty bad. Like “late spring,” now you’re talking!


3 Daniel Reeders March 20, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Hi Sam, loved this post! Is the Value Orientations Model from Goffman? Seeing ‘man’ standing for ‘humans’ in 2011 was a bit jarring.


4 Sam Ladner March 21, 2011 at 6:37 am

HI Daniel,

it’s actually from Kluckhohn. See Kluckhohn, F. R. (1953). Dominant and variant value orientations. Personality in Nature, Society and Culture. . J. a. K. Murrayh, F.R. New York, Knopf: 346.

It’s definitely not a new theory, but a useful one.


5 Menage-Pro July 20, 2011 at 8:47 am

Cleaning can be very theraputic. This article was very well written and definitely makes you think of spring cleaning a different way.


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