Monday, August 16, 2010




1 : of or relating to a sensory threshold
2 : barely perceptible
3 : of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional

The concept of LIMINALITY in the field of anthropology first appeared in the work of Arnold Van Gennep in 1909. Regarding rites of passage, or coming-of-age rituals (i.e. marriage), Gennep notes a three part structure for the change: separation, LIMINAL period, reassimilation. One is stripped of social status, left wandering and naked, and then picked up by a new identity. Gennep is known as the founder of French folklore. Despite his scholarly work, he remained forever in the LIMINAL stages of French academia, exiled because of his criticism of Emile Durkheim.

Gennep's work was picked up later in the century by British cultural anthropologist, Victor "Witter" Turner (my quotes). Turner focuses specifically on the second step in Gennep's rites of passages, pausing at the LIMINAL stage when the subject of passage is "socially ambiguous." Turner's concise definition of LIMINALITY: the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all, and, more than that, as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise.

Turner describes those in a state of social LIMINALITY, aka "liminars," as "neither here nor there," and groups them with two other social place cards: marginality and inferiority. The liminars, however, distinguish themselves by expecting a resolution to their ambiguity. Prisoners in social purgatory, so to speak.

Social LIMINALITY sounds to me a little like adolescence—a wanting to drive the car but not pay the insurance sort of thing. While the teenage years may be the most obviously LIMINAL time in one's life, I suppose every big transition has a LIMINAL stage, however minor. I have to admit to kind of loving those ambiguous moments, when things are up in the air, as though in slow motion, rising, waiting, hoping to fall into place; in Turner's words: a realm of pure possibility.

For more on LIMINALITY, see here.

Also, I'm enjoying these images.

No comments:

Post a Comment