Could it be that what characterises rituals in the modern world is a pattern of consumption?

Anthro:Politico writes:

A few weeks ago, a fellow mailing list subscriber extolled the virtues of Rite of Passage Journeys. It’s an organization that “provides intentional rites of passage experiences”. Sure, I knew this sort of thing existed, but this group just presents the information in an unusually blatant manner. My favorite has to be the “Adult Wilderness Quest” which is a “Nine-day retreat modeled after the cross-cultural and ancient rite of passage known as a vision quest.” And for $995 (with a $250 deposit) this rite of passage can be yours.

So if you complete this wilderness quest, exactly who’s rites are you passing? If the ritual doesn’t belong to your own culture, doesn’t that sort of defeat the point? Maybe, but let’s look at this in a different light.

What if “Western” rituals are based on having the power to consume? Advertisers and marketers have recognized the value of this idea for years. We’re forever hearing about the buying power of kids vs. tweens vs. teens and the strengths of those markets. Now ages are frequently marked by what consumer products are appropriate – for example, what’s the right age for your kid to get their first cell phone, and how is that determined by society-at-large?

Instead of looking at a ritual event (prom), we need to look instead for ritualized purchasing (the prom dress or tux, the limo, the dinner, the ticket). It makes sense that we can incorporate something like the intentional experiences from Rite of Passage Journeys as our own ritual, because our ritual is about wanting to buy it, and then purchasing it. Perhaps the liminal state is when your credit card is being processed.

An important ramification of this perspective is the role of consumption as a threat to the environment. When society places so much emphasis on purchasing stuff to the extent of ritualizing it, it becomes painfully obvious that a core value of our culture is intrinsically linked to environmental ruin. As a society, is it possible for us to have rites of passage and leave the credit cards and checkbook at home?

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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

Firstly, the preface to Dundes & Falassi’s  La Terra in Piazza: An Interpretation of the Palio of Siena.  Googlebooks has let me down, so I’ve embedded the preface here for you to read:

It was a busy, busy week.  We covered the idea of liminality, dove into secular rituals, and began discussing public events/public rituals.

Information on Victor Turner and liminality is here.  We discussed liminality as a period of anti-structure, bracketed by times of structure.  Your classmates have written informative posts on the topic ranging from deciphering Turner’s article in your reader to a list of what often characterises the liminal phase.

After reading Moore & Myerhoff’s intro to secular ritual we discussed how reconfiguring the term ‘sacred’ meant that the study of ritual could migrate to a secular context.  The primary change was a broadening of what the term “sacred” could mean.  Since ‘sacred’ had usually been synonymous with the religious realm, it had the effect of making religious rituals and their effects unquestionable.  In theorising secular ritual, the unquestionable aspect of the sacred was retained, but it was teased away from a religious context.  The function of secular rituals is still to make their goals/effects seem unquestionable.  What differs between religious rituals and secular rituals are their explanations of causality.  Secular rituals move the earthly world; religious rituals move the heavens/entice the gods in order to impact the earthly world.

Have a look at these posts on Moore & Myerhoff’s explanation of Turner, the construction of image through ritual, thin vs thick description, the necessity of a cleansing ritual after a murder, and feelings of safety and acceptance that emerge out of ritual.

Regarding public rituals and events, we discussed some general characteristics that they often share and what purpose they can serve. I’ll leave out the details for now in the hopes that in your coming blog posts you will collectively create your own definition of public rituals.

We also watched a few videos on the Palio before we discussed the various ways you could approach the Palio and the symbolism involved:

Here’s the roundup of the issues you raised in class.

Nixxta broaches the topic of de-baptism as status reversal and ties it into the question of what happens if a rite of passage isn’t completed successfully.

And two blogs picked up the comment about a third gender in India as a type of extended liminality.   Pearl12 explains the Hijars with a concise, to-the-point summary and Esther01 provides a link to a very informative article on the phenomenon.  Also, Moanagirl gives a reading recommendation for Among the Thugs as an example of an extended liminal period for one man trying to understand football hooliganism.

There is another link to an article on liminality here, while Edo12 suggests looking at this article on body rituals of the Nacirema.  Additionally, there’s an interesting discussion of ritual vs habit (no nuns involved) at Jess’ Ritual Blog.

Update: Ingie Hovland has a great post on trying to make sense of her experience studying the meetings of all-women groups in Norway – it resonated with much of what has emerged in class discussion:

I have been wondering, however, whether I can really describe their meetings as “rituals.” I guess the short answer is that it depends on what I mean by “ritual.” But I found a slightly longer and more useful answer recently…

Here is the list of Turner’s binary oppositions that he uses to characterise liminality vs the typical social & cultural structure:

Transition / state
Totality / partiality
Homogeneity / heterogeneity
Communitas / structure
Equality / inequality
Anonymity / systems of nomenclature
Absence of property / property
Nakedness or uniform clothing / distinctions of clothing
Sexual abstinence / sexuality
Minimization of status and sex distinctions / distinctions of rank and gender
Humility / just pride of position
Disregard for personal appearance / care for personal appearance
No distinctions of wealth / distinctions of wealth
Unselfishness / selfishness
Total obedience / obedience only to superior rank
Sacredness / secularity
Sacred instruction / technical knowledge
Silence / speech
Suspension of kinship rights and obligations / kinship rights and obligations
Continuous reference to mystical powers / intermittent reference to mystical powers
Foolishness / seriousness
Simplicity / complexity
Acceptance of pain and suffering / avoidance of pain and suffering
Heteronomy and passivity / degrees of autonomy

This is from chapter 3 (p106), Liminality & Communitas, of The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, 1969.  This chapter also covers the Rule of St. Benedict, Millenarian Movements and the Beat Generation that we spoke about this morning and ties in the idea of communitas, that intense bonding and egalitarianism that often takes place during liminal rites.

For further reading check out Turner’s The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, 1967, specifically ch 4.