Lecture Recaps


Statue of André Hazes in Amsterdam

Last week we used weddings as a lens to look at the private-public continuum in rituals and what effect where they lay on this continuum can have on their construction.  This week we moved more towards the public aspects of ritual through looking at media and publicity surrounding two specific funerals, those of André Hazes and Sir Ed Hillary.https://i1.wp.com/www.chesslerbooks.com/eCart/catalog/n/NZ$5BillPaperSigned.jpg

Brigitte used Irene Steng’s 2009 article, Death and disposal of the people’s singer: The body and bodily practices in commemorative ritual, to address the relationship between public media and ritual.  The article surveys Hazes’ death through trying to understand his body and its portrayal in the rituals surrounding his death.  It also discusses the way his death began a new negotiation of modern death and funeral rites.  Steng discusses Hazes’ living body in terms of his public identity as a celebrity and his role in the social life of Holland, then his dead body as something that creates tension between the need to dispose of it and the desire to commemorate it, and finally she discusses the disposal of his body through cremation and the public and private dispersal of his ashes.

In addition to walking out of the lecture thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got to get my hands on that article’ you should have also been thinking about the processes through which new rituals emerge and the ways they can be used to display one’s own social standing (think of his fans and his wife) and the social standing of others after their death.  You can never fully escape Bourdieu.

Here’s the clip that Brigitte used to introduce you to Hazes

On Friday we watched a clip from Sir Ed Hillary’s State Funeral that was a contrast to Haze’s public memorial ceremony held in Amsterdam Arena.  Hillary’s funeral was held in a church and was somber throughout.  But the public aspects of his celebrity persona were clearly visible – the private representations of him as an individual were present, but somewhat more difficult to spot.

Brigitte followed this up with a reminder powerpoint about political rituals, below.

Other writers mentioned in class:

Chris Rojek’s writings on celebrity

This week began with a discussion on the public and private aspects of marriage and weddings and then turned to a discussion of when marriage could be described as political.  You discussed the most recent example that has appeared in the NZ news –  Christine Rankin being appointed to the Families Commission and the ways her history of multiple marriages has become public fodder in the debate around her appointment.

This segued into Bourdieu, rites of passage as political events and symbolic capital.  The powerpoints are below.  We watched a clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and analysed it in terms of Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus.  We also discussed ideas of individualism, specifically the reflexive individual and self identity as a project, in terms of Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash.

The clip from class begins at minute 6:

This week’s lectures highlighted two very different rituals, Hauka spirit possession and Cypriot weddings, but both examples brought our attention to the relationship between a ritual embedded in a society and the ways that cultural change can be reflected in this space.

On Tuesday, Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous showed an example of spirit possession rituals in West Africa after French colonial contact.  What did it mean that these rituals had clearly changed since colonial contact? Why had the pantheon of inhabiting spirits become colonial characters? Catherine posed several alternatives, with links to relevant articles and books –  Was it simply a reaction to colonial power structures?  Was it a way for rural migrants to cope with their new chaotic, urban environment?  Was it a response to the dramatic/traumatic rupture of traditional power structure?  Was the mimicry of colonial characters and protocol a form of appropriation or was it a form of resistance?  Or does the ritual spirit possession signify something that falls in between these two poles – is it a claim to membership within a white, colonial society where they are considered inferior?

Friday’s lecture on Cypriot weddings revealed the ritual weddings being considered in a new way alongside changes in Cypriot society.  As Cyprus finds itself facing increased levels of  ‘globalising processes like Westernisation’, in Argyrou’s terms, he argues that weddings, because of their very public nature in Cyprus, should be seen as a rite of class distinction rather than solely a rite of passage.  MoanaGirl ties this into this week’s readings on Packaged Japaneseness and relates it back to our earlier discussions on inventing tradition.  See Brigitte’s slides, below, on Tradition and Modernity in the Mediterranean: The wedding as symbolic struggle by Vassos Argyrou, for more on Cypriot weddings.

And in case you missed the hintin the lecture today, the next three lectures will be very helpful

for preparing for the end of the semester

Thanks to Catherine for giving a lecture on the Hauka on Tuesday!  Your readings from Week 4 should have provided good background for her discussion.  Her powerpoint slides are below, followed by some of the readings she mentioned.


Further readings

Frantz Fanon Black Skin, White Mask

Bhabha, Homi 1994 Of Mimicry and Men: the ambivalence of  colonial discourse. In The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge Pp. 85-92

Ferguson, James 2002 Of Mimicry and Membership: Africans and the “New world society” Cultural Anthropology 17(4):551-69

Taussig, Michael 1993 Mimesis and Alterity: a particular history of the senses. New York: Routledge

Stoller, Paul 1994 Embodying Colonial Memories. American Anthropologist 96(3): 634-48

Stoller, Paul 1995 Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit possession, power & the Hauka of West Africa. New York: Routledge

Just in case you missed it Jean Rouch’s Les Mtres Fous (The Mad Masters) is available on youtube in three parts.


With a few exceptions, this course has predominantly focused on public aspects of ritual.  This week we were trying to build a bridge between the public, highly visible side of rituals and rites of passage and the more personal, private aspects of rituals.

Brigitte’s presentation on Renato Rosaldo’s Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis aimed to highlight a shift in ritual studies. Using Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage as a specific example, she highlighted the role emotions can play in ritual life – the emotions of the Ilongots as well as the emotions of the anthropologist.  Many ritual studies focus on a bounded event – it is easy to observe and it has a noticeable structure.  Rosaldo says that ritual studies should also follow the accompanying emotions – the experience of death is a much larger event than the ritualised funeral.  The argument was made that one shouldn’t just read rituals as a text; one needs to read between the lines as well in order to glimpse what it feels like to be someone who has to confront the emotional side of a ritual event such as death.  This would begin the process of thinking about rituals in terms of open ended human processes rather than bounded events.

The presentation also provided some insight into the confusing process that is fieldwork and ethnographic writing – I bet more than one of you have felt a little of this in the past two weeks while going through your fieldnotes and writing up your essays!

Baptism, another life crisis ritual, was used as an accompanying example to the discussion of Rosaldo and the ritual of death in Friday’s lecture.  You discussed what some key elements of life crisis rituals are, ie, acceptance into group, providing context and meaning for unavoidable biological change.

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You also discussed the somewhat paradoxical role rituals can play in times of life crises.  For example, in the instances where the ritual itself is dangerous or life threatening (you specifically mentioned female circumcision and the exorcism story currently in the media), generally additional ritual precautions are taken to ensure safety.  Although, as Nixxta points out regarding Morini’s article in this week’s reading, perhaps it is the pain involved in these rites that is the key factor rather than the danger/safety relationship??

We watched a clip from Lehel Laszlo’s 1996 film, Baptising Ceremony in Bánhorvat. Thinking about the film ethnographically will be good practice for the upcoming test.  Specifically consider that you should be able to describe what happened in the clip: what did you see & what didn’t you see, which people are featured prominently, what do you think the filmmaker was trying to achieve?

This week’s lectures centred on inventing tradition.  Hopefully you encountered some ideas that will be useful in your essays!

On Tuesday Brigitte discussed Hobsbawm & Ranger’s edited book, The Invention of Tradition.  Her powerpoint slides are here.

In class, we discussed how traditions are not timeless even though they seem that way.  There is this sort of romanticism surrounding traditions that helps generate the sense that they are ancient. The point of this is that if traditions are old, then they are unquestionable and can be exploited for political gain

After a few technical blips in Friday’s lecture, you saw a short clip from Koriam’s Law and the Dead Who Govern by Gary Kildea (2005).

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While you were watching the clip you were supposed to consider issues such as colonial administration, indiginous ways of life and the roles cargo cults can play in inventing tradition.  CFHowland follows this up with a post on ritual participation and ties her disucussion into ANZAC Day.  Ethnographically, the film should have brought your attention to issues of reflexivity in film making and the role of the anthropologist, filmmaker and informants in the process of representation.  If you want to follow this up, there is an interview with Gary Kildea here regarding the role of anthropologists in his filmmaking.

Hope you are all having a great Easter break – and that your assignments are going well 🙂

Our week was cut short by the holidays, so ANZAC Day dominated the discussion.

While you are working on your ANZAC assignments, keep a few things in mind . In class we discussed the relationship between structuring forces in society & culture and individual agency. Emamber has a blog post that is pertinent to the balance between the two – and relates well to an issue that has arisen regarding your approach to the assignment.   Emamber is writing about Geertz’s thick description and says he

…places a lot of emphasis on culture being defined as public meanings, not just individual and personal meanings. Particular actions can be so personal and meaningful to an individual but to the public may mean absolutely nothing.

Many of you have posted about ANZAC day and your ideas for your assignment.  There has been a lot of attention to sacrifice, remembrance and the emotions that emerge throughout the course of ANZAC day.  You’re correct to note that the emotional side of the experience is important, but don’t get drawn into talking at length about your own emotions.  The focus should be on the public meanings, not the personal meanings.  Most New Zealanders have a personal history or story intertwined with ANZAC day, but this isn’t what the assignment is about.  The important thing for this assignment is to think beyond the level of the individual – think about groups (NZ as a nation or a particular group within NZ, for example) and the role of shared or public meaning in ANZAC day as a political ritual.  So, just remember to keep your focus on the social, the cultural, the shared, the public.

And while we’re on the subject of ANZAC Day, two posts provide useful links & info, while Alison71 writes about finding her great-grandfather’s war journals and another blogger posts a quick history of the ANZAC biscuit and her assignment ideas.  Also, ANZAC Day and the notion of a New Zealand identity gets discussed along with the role of parades, complete with video.

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