One of the most significant theoretical paradigms for understanding themes of purity and impurity available to researchers is that of Mary Douglas. However her account is problematic: it neglects the analysis of power-relations and subjectivity due to its universalizing, structural-functionalist scope. By contrast Primo Levi’s writings offer an example of a particular cultural economy of purity, and shed light on how a contingent form of purity judgement in Fascist ideology refracted into multiple lived discourses. Levi traces changes in purity narratives across different institutional and social contexts, even within the psyche of a single perpetrator or victim. His writings show the pressing need for a new theory of purity and impurity, and offers fundamental insights towards such an account.