Sunday, March 25, 2012

Victor Turner on Liminality and communitas –Summary and Analysis

Anthropologist Victor Turner made a huge contribution to anthropology by reintroducing the concept of "liminality" into the anthropological discourse. Turner was concerned with understanding cultures on the basis of dynamism and disorder, seeing society not as a "thing" but rather as a dynamic and dialectic process. Tuner conceptualized culture as a constant struggle between structure and anti-structure.

Turner's work on liminalty draws from Van-Gennep's triadic model of the Rite of Passage, which he elaborates to include other cultural phenomena. Van Gennep described the process of shifting from one social status to another in three stages: 1.disengaement in which the individual is symbolically removed from society and his own identity. 2. The luminal stage in which the individual is secluded from society and is under constant supervision. 3. The reunion or post-liminal stage in which the individual is reintegrated into society with his new statues.

Turner took an interest is the second phase of Van Gennep's model – that of liminality. Liminalty, in terms of social structure and time, is an intermediate state of being "in between" in which individuals are striped from their usual identity and their constituting social differences while being on the verge of personal or social transformation. Turner's perception of liminality, it should be noted, is in many respects an addition or correction to Mary Douglas' somewhat dichotomic and static description "ritual uncleaness".
According to turner, liminality brings about a state he calls "communitas". Communitas according to Turner is a relatively structureless society which is based on relations of equality and solidarity and which is opposed to the normative social structure. Communitas gains it meaning through the deconstruction of this normative order. The communitas is according to Turner the ultimate vision of a culture. However, liminality and communitas are usually temporary and structurally defined and limited, thus dialectically serve to reaffirm the existing social order.    

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