Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tuesday May 8, 2007

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:56 PM
The Public Square

Center of Town, Cuernavaca, from Paul Goodman's Communitas

On the words “symbology” and “communitas” (the former used, notably, as the name of a fictional field at Harvard in the novel The Da Vinci Code)–


“Also known as ‘processual symbolic analysis,’ this concept was developed by Victor Turner in the mid-1970s to refer to the use of symbols within cultural contexts, in particular ritual. In anthropology, symbology originated as part of Victor Turner’s concept of ‘comparative symbology.’ Turner (1920-1983) was professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, the University of Chicago, and finally he was Professor of Anthropology and Religion at the University of Virginia.” —Wikipedia

Symbology and Communitas:

 From Beth Barrie’s
  Victor Turner
“‘The positional meaning of a symbol derives from its relationship to other symbols in a totality, a Gestalt, whose elements acquire their significance from the system as a whole’ (Turner, 1967:51). Turner considered himself a comparative symbologist, which suggests he valued his contributions to the study of ritual symbols. It is in the closely related study of ritual processes that he had the most impact.

The most important contribution Turner made to the field of anthropology is his work on liminality and communitas. Believing the liminal stage to be of ‘crucial importance’ in the ritual process, Turner explored the idea of liminality more seriously than other anthropologists of his day.

As noted earlier Turner elaborated on van Gennep’s concept of liminality in rites of passage. Liminality is a state of being in between phases. In a rite of passage the individual in the liminal phase is neither a member of the group she previously belonged to nor is she a member of the group she will belong to upon the completion of the rite. The most obvious example is the teenager who is neither an adult nor a child. ‘Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial’ (Turner, 1969:95). Turner extended the liminal concept to modern societies in his study of liminoid phenomena in western society. He pointed out the similarities between the ‘leisure genres of art and entertainment in complex industrial societies and the rituals and myths of archaic, tribal and early agrarian cultures’ (1977:43).

Closely associated to liminality is communitas which describes a society during a liminal period that is ‘unstructured or rudimentarily structured [with] a relatively undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals who submit together to the general authority of the ritual elders’ (Turner, 1969:96).

The notion of communitas is enhanced by Turner’s concept of anti-structure. In the following passage Turner clarifies the ideas of liminal, communitas and anti-structure:

I have used the term ‘anti-structure,’… to describe both liminality and what I have called ‘communitas.’ I meant by it not a structural reversal… but the liberation of human capacities of cognition, affect, volition, creativity, etc., from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a sequence of social statuses (1982:44).

It is the potential of an anti-structured liminal person or liminal society (i.e., communitas) that makes Turner’s ideas so engaging. People or societies in a liminal phase are a ‘kind of institutional capsule or pocket which contains the germ of future social developments, of societal change’ (Turner, 1982:45).

Turner’s ideas on liminality and communitas have provided scholars with language to describe the state in which societal change takes place.”

Turner, V. (1967). The forest of symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Turner, V. (1969). The ritual process: structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co.

Turner, V. (1977). Variations of the theme of liminality. In Secular ritual. Ed. S. Moore & B. Myerhoff. Assen: Van Gorcum, 36-52.

Turner, V. (1982). From ritual to theater: The human seriousness of play. New York: PAJ Publications.

Related material on Turner in Log24:

Aug. 27, 2006 and Aug. 30, 2006.  For further context, see archive of Aug. 19-31, 2006.

Related material on Cuernavaca:

Google search on Cuernavaca + Log24.

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