On Tues we talked about ritualised behaviour and how what seems commonplace and ordinary to a New Zealander often seems quite odd to an outsider.  cmphilli takes this logic to Peru and explains how she found greeting everyone with a kiss bizarre at first.  Coincidentally, this post at Crooked Timber just popped up and discusses a new type of greeting kiss that has recently emerged.

Our mini-observation (watching these youtube vids) served as a practice for your assignment.  You should have a basic idea of taking fieldnotes and drawing preliminary conclusions from them.

We also talked specifics regarding van Gennep and his tripartite structure for rites of passage.  You should all be familiar with the lingo in its various forms:

  • pre-liminal = separation,
  • liminal = marge, isolation, enclosure, metamorphosis
  • post-liminal = aggregation, re-incorporation

We discussed rites of passage which correlate to biological events, ie, birth, puberty and death.  As Catherine Bell explains:  “Life-cycle rituals seem to proclaim that the biological order is less determinative than the social” (p94). She goes further:  “Physical birth is one thing; being properly identified and accepted as a member of the social group is another” (pg 94).

What she means is that what makes these life stages interesting and significant is the social & cultural meaning that is attached to them.  We can look at rite of passage rituals and get a glimpse into this deeply rooted cultural logic.

Today we discussed loosing your virginity as a rite of passage.  We looked at cross cultural examples as ways to view highly formal and less formal versions of a rite of passage.  We also discussed how rites of passage are embedded in broader cultural beliefs.

The Sambia from New Guinea were our first example.  We discussed ideas of sex as work and sex as play, and the ways that the males’ rite of passage was entwined with beliefs regarding semen being the ultimate life force which transforms boys into men.

The Arab Muslim community in Augila, Libya was our second example. We looked at brides loosing their virginity as a rite of passage taking place within the wider rite of passage of a seven day wedding celebration.  We discussed the symbolic shift after the bride’s deflowering – she becomes a member of her new family by marriage rather than belonging to her birth family.

We also looked at understandings of loosing your virginity in the US and looked at the case of Natalie Dylan as an example of how unstated norms can become apparent when they are transgressed.  Despite the various meanings attached to loosing your virginity across multiple subgroups in the US, the commoditisation of virginity drew nearly universal condemnation.

We also tied the meanings of loosing your virginity to broader social themes such as notions of romantic love, understandings of sexuality, religious & cosmological beliefs, expected gender roles, notions of the public vs the private, economic/property transactions, understandings of children outside marriage, and its relationship to marriage as an social institution.

General things to keep in mind when you are thinking about rites of passage

  • what cultural themes are apparent?
  • is the rite about social recognition or personal identification?
  • how long does the liminal stage last – what goes on during it?
  • what are the symbolic elements involved?
  • what does the rite say about social hierarchies and/or gender roles?