First up, you can view your ANZAC assignment on this blog here

Political ritual has been the focus for this week.  Through this framework, we’ve engaged with ideas of power and performance.  On Tuesday we looked at what constitutes a political ritual and how it can differ from a  public ritual such as Palio or Carnival.

Here’s what we came up with: Political rituals…

  • are routinised and orderly – the audience and participants will know exactly what to expect
  • are officially sanctioned and scheduled
  • aim for notions of solidarity, collectivity and unity in action and understanding
  • use public symbols to convey messages
  • create social history by cementing an event and its representation into the social fabric and collective memory
  • reiterate the significance of the event that is being celebrated to the wider society

The powerpoint slide from Tuesday’s class have already been posted on the blog.  Specific points in the slideshow were illustrated with youtube videos.  We saw clips of the Mass Games in North Korea as an example of using excessive displays of wealth, mass approval and material resources in order to demonstrate the productive fit between current leadership and the ‘rightness’ of life.  We also saw imagery and motifs of military might representing the strength of the nation and a focus on the collective rather than individuals – a focus on Kim Jong-il was the exception to this.  Two clips on the swearing in of the newest King of Tonga contextualised this specific political ritual and its displays of power within the current social and political climate in Tonga.  We also saw a short clip of Obama taking the Oath of Office to illustrate the how crucial order, ceremony and etiquette are in enacting the change that the ritual is supposed to bring about.  Since the Oath was initially recited incorrectly, Obama later asked the Chief Justice to come to the Oval Office and repeat the ritual to ensure that there was no uncertainty surrounding him taking over the Presidency.

On Friday we discussed performance and Victor Turner’s social drama approach.  The emphasis on performance is an emphasis on what rituals do.  Using a performative approach provides us with a language to talk about action.  It also situates the people involved in ritual as actors – they are now active agents, not just passive recipients.

Turner sees people and culture in continuous flux and transformation – so his approach to studying these is one that accounts for everything in social life to be in movement – he believes there is a strain towards order, but we don’t achieve it and anthropology needs to take the reality of chaos and disagreement into account –  he pulls from Sally F. Moore: “established rules, customs, and symbolic frameworks exist, but they operate in the presence of areas of indeterminacy, of ambiguity, of uncertainty and manipulability.  Order never fully takes over, not could it.”  Culture isn’t a fully articulated system or set of symbolic codes- it is changing, evolving, and indeterminate.  Turner thinks too much emphasis has been placed on fit, harmony & congruence in ritual studies – too functionalist.   Using the social drama as a unit of analysis will illuminate the complex relationship between the fact of social life and its representation

In social dramas Turner begins with disharmonious moments – these are large scale arguments, combats, or even rites of passage.  It is a process driven model, more interested in staging, plot, movement, change & commentary than a the structure of the event (however, Turner does lay out a structure for social dramas).   The term social drama emerges for two main reasons – 1 -Turner relies on theatrical terminology to make his point – 2- he is talking about events that are “inherently dramatic because participants not only do things, they try to show others what they are doing or have done – in other words, actions take on a performed quality

Turner calls social dramas “an eruption from the level surface of ongoing social life” and structures them into four stages: breach, crisis, redressive action (schism).  In The Anthropology of Performance, Turner elabourates:  1- Breach of regular norm-governed social relations; 2- Crisis, during which there is a tendency for the breach to widen.  Each public crisis has what I now call liminal characteristics, since it is a threshold (limen) between more or less stable phases of the social process, but it is not usually a sacred limen, hedged around by taboos and thrust away from the centers of public life.  On the contrary, it takes up its menacing stance in the forum itself, and as it were, dares the representatives of order to grapple with it; 3- Redressive action ranging from personal advice and informal mediation or arbitration to formal juridical and legal machinery, and, to resolve certain kinds of crisis or legitimate other modes of resolution, to the performance of public ritual.  Redress,too, has its liminal features, for it is “betwixt and between”, and as such, furnishes a distanced replication and critique of the events leading up to and composing the ‘crisis’.  This replication may be in the rational idiom of the judicial process, or in the metaphorical and symbolic idiom of a ritual process; 4- The final phase consists either of the reintegration of the disturbed social group, or of the social recognition and legitimation of irreparable schism between the contesting parties.

We also discussed Kertzer’s idea that rituals themselves are a field of political struggle, as opposed to rituals simply being a vehicle to communicate the results of a political struggle – think about the political campaign season compared to an inauguration, for example.

We continued with Kertzer’s Rite Makes Might idea and discussed mass rallies and public demonstrations or protests – ex: G20 protests.    Symbolism and symbolic behaviour is at the forefront here – there are obviously competing symbolic systems involved – we’ve talked about power and performance and the way rituals/rites make convincing arguments about the way the world works and who is in charge – but people don’t automatically buy into these systems and beliefs – When you think about rituals and power you need to consider the balance between structuring forces and agency.

Books, articles and authors that came up in class this week

Irving Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Victor Turner – Dramas, Fields & Metaphors -Also,  The Anthropology of Performance

David Kertzer – Ritual, Politics & Power

Jeffrey C Alexander – Cultural Pragmatics –  Also, From the Depths of Despair