Victor Turner

Victor Turner came out of the Manchester School of anthropology, under the influence of Max Gluckman. Gluckman insisted that any theoretical and conceptual understanding of social forms and their defining ideas must be grounded in the study of social practice.

Turner, V. (1967). Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. In The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
-He examines the sociocultural properties of the liminal stage within rituals
-liminality is the interstructural place of participants and is most obvious in smaller societies.
-state refers to the stable, socially recognized condition (46)
-threes phases of transition: separation, margin, and aggregation.
-rites of passage are not confined to between states, but entering into new states.
-the subject of liminality is invisible to the structure (48)
-“Transitional beings are particularly polluting…and are at the very least ‘betwixt and between’ all the recognizable fixed points in space-time of structural classification” (48).
-Liminality of participants is on intelligible to society. They have nothing or sometimes have things (attributes) from both states in the structure. This can be bad. But Turner points out that between liminal participants there is equality and between elder and neophyte authority and obedience (50). “The liminal group is a community or comity of comrades and not a structure of hierarchically arrayed positions.” In fact, Turner argues that this interstructural position creates comradeship and friendship of the deepest kinds.
-Sacra is the cultural component of the liminal situation and comes in three forms: exhibitions (what is shown), actions (what is done), and instructions (what is said).
-Turner finds three problems with communicating the sacra (disproportion, monstrousness, and mystery). Disproportion refers to the sizes of the exhibitions and how the masks or phallic objects are usually disproportionate or in unusual colors compared to the actual size. This exaggeration is to invite reflection (52). Being monstrous is to encourage neophytes to “distinguish clearly between the different factors of reality, as it is conceived in their culture” (52) and think about the world they have taken for granted.

Sacra as a whole (1) reduce culture into recognized features, (2) combine those features into fantastic and/or monstrous patterns, (3) and re-combine them back into a way that is sensical to the new state of the neophytes (53).

Turner, V. W. (1957). Schism and continuity in an African society; a study of Ndembu village life. Manchester, Eng.: Published on behalf of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, Northern Rhodesia, by Manchester University Press.

Victor Turner attributed the new focus on performance during the 1970s to a shift in anthropology from “structure to process and from competence to performance”(Royce 2004; Turner 1987). Turner’s study of Ndembu rites of passage and the multivocality of symbols pointed to a view of ritual as the public performance of a communicative and functional event that attempts to redress schism in a community (Turner 1967).

Social Drama: one of a series of crises occurring in the history of the village, when either a quarrel between some of the inhabitants, or a misfortune ascribed by the people and by divination to ancestral spirits or sorcery, precipitates threats to the unity of the village (xvii-xviii).

Social Drama occurs in four phases: (1) a breach of normative sociral relations between persons or groups within the same social group. (2) the breach (if not contained) spreads to all the social relations the two parties belong. (3) suggestions for how to stop the breach are brought up by leaders of the social groups. (4) reintegration or socially recognition of irreparability. In short, breach, crisis, redressive action, and re0integration/recongition of schism. All the while the ideal persists regardless of the resolution of crisis. (91-92).

115- the example of Sandombu and social drama is clearly explained.

123-124- “every time a norm is broken by one individual, a temptation is experienced by every other individual in the group to do likewise. Breaches represent constant temptations to the members of the group to rebel against norms critically connected to the unity and persistence of the group. These tendencies to come into conflict with the norms must be purged of their socially disruptive quality if the group is to remain integrated. Ritual is the social mechanism by which a group is purged of the anarchic and disruptive impulses which threaten its crucial norms and values.”

161- “implicit in the notion of reintegration is the concept of social equilibrium.”  Internal relations between people may have changed or realigned but equilibrium is reached once more. It may be an index or vehicle for change between members of the social group in conflict.

Frame, flow and reflection: Ritual and drama as public liminality. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies JJRS, 6(4).

“public reflexivity takes the form of a performance” 465
liminal rites = rites of passage

He’s main argument is that “for every major social formation there is a dominant mode of public liminality, the subjunctive space time that is the counterstroke to its pragmatic indicative texture” (468). Depending on the level of society, the nature/genre of the performance changes.

To be reflexive, a society must fragment or frame symbols for analysis.

472- The content of the ritual relates to the unity and continuity of the nation and the land, transcending all structural oppositions of chief and commoner, men and women.

Carnival -474- “new ways of modeling or framing social reality may actually be proposed and sometimes legitimated in the very heat of performance, emerging as a sort of artifact or popular creativeness”. This is was carnival is considered dangerous. They are more flexible and responsive to social change and political/economic structures (475).

Turner makes the distinction between post-fuedal carnival and early modern carnival, but what’s really the difference? Then there is stage drama, which emphasizes the individual. I think the big takeaway is what he writes on 486: “The examples of public liminality I have given – calendrical rites in tribal cultures and carnivals in post-feudal and early modem culture – stress the role of collective in- novatory behavior, of crowds generating new ways of framing and modelling the social reality which presses on them in their daily lives. Here all is open, plurally reflexive, the folk acts on the folk and transforms itself through becoming aware of its situation and predicament.”

489- shout out to Erving Goffman and Frames

Liminality is often socially collective but liminoid is either collective or individual. The liminoid is exciting for Turner since it gives more agency to the individual.

Social Dramas and Stories about Them. Critical Inquiry,7(1), 141-168.

“My hypothesis, based on repeated observations of such processual units in a range of sociocultural systems and in my reading in ethnography and history, is that social dramas, “dramas of living,” as Kenneth Burke calls them, can be aptly studied as having four phases. These I label breach, crisis, redress, and either reintegration or recognition of schism. Social dramas occur within groups of persons who share values and interests and who have a real or alleged common history.” (149)

He explores the contingent and emergent character of the phases of social drama (breach, crisis, redress, & reintegration), focusing on how conflicts run their course.

162-163- “The ‘flat’ view of ritual must go. So also must the notion, beloved until recently by functionalist anthropologists, that ritual could be understood as a set of mechanisms for promoting a gross group solidarity…its symbols are not merely ‘reflections or expression components of social structure.’ Ritual, in its full performative flow not only many-leveled, “laminated,” but also capable, under conditions of societal change, of creative modification on all or any of its levels.


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