Categories and socks

I was mocked this past Christmas for my response to one of my gifts. I had been presented with a box of six “odd socks”. In fact, although each of the six socks had a different design, they shared a basic background and were all related to gardening, which makes perfect sense given that gardening is my new favourite thing.

My first response was to pair them up.


Honestly, that wasn’t so difficult. Birds and bees, flowerpots and tools, fruit and veg. A small child could have found an ordering principle that obvious. But apparently the socks were not supposed to be ordered. I had, it seems, missed the point of odd socks entirely.

Which got me thinking about my own propensity for order. I do prefer my socks paired, though I am happy for them to differ from one another. I have a habit of hanging the laundry so that all the similar-coloured things are next to each other. And, of course, finding and creating patterns and orders and categories is one of the things I love about research.

Much of this is fairly harmless, indeed maybe even beneficial. I see patterns in my research data and this informs my analysis and even the questions I decide to investigate. I like the clarity of a structured piece of writing, both when I am the author and when I am the reader. I have a particular love of divisions into three, which is of course a basic human instinct, though admittedly not so helpful with socks.

The danger comes, I suppose, when we see order because we want to, or when we impose our own categories on our material in order to pursue our own agenda. Whether or not I have done this with my Christmas present I leave you to decide.



About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
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One Response to Categories and socks

  1. jayarava says:

    Seeing order where there is none is one of two essential qualities for religious thinking. The other is seeing agency where there is none. If the socks seem to take on a life of their own, you’re in trouble. 🙂

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