Liminality

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Not to be confused with Limerence.
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This article is about the concept of liminality. For the original video animation, see .hack//Liminality.

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold"[citation needed] between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

The concept of liminality was first developed in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner.[2] More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals.[3] During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.[4] The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.[5] The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly, undermining its significance to some extent.[6]

Rites of passage[edit]

Arnold van Gennep[edit]

Van Gennep, who invented the term liminality, published in 1909 his Rites de Passage, a work that is essential to the development of the concept of liminality in the context of rituals in small-scale societies. Van Gennep began his book by identifying the various categories of rites. He distinguished between those that result in a change of status for an individual or social group, and those that signify transitions in the passage of time.[7] In doing so, he placed a particular emphasis on rites of passage, and claimed that “such rituals marking, helping, or celebrating individual or collective passages through the cycle of life or of nature exist in every culture, and share a specific three-fold sequential structure”.[8]

This three-fold structure, as established by van Gennep, is made up of the following components:[9]

  • preliminal rites (or rites of separation): This stage involves a metaphorical “death”, as the initiate is forced to leave something behind by breaking with previous practices and routines.[10]
  • liminal rites (or transition rites): This involves “the creation of a tabula rasa, through the removal of previously taken-for-granted forms and limits”.[11] Two characteristics are essential to these rites. First, the rite “must follow a strictly prescribed sequence, where everybody knows what to do and how”.[12] Second, everything must be done “under the authority of a master of ceremonies”.[13] The destructive nature of this rite allows for considerable changes to be made to the identity of the initiand. This middle stage (when the transition takes place) “implies an actual passing through the threshold that marks the boundary between two phases, and the term ‘liminality’ was introduced in order to characterize this passage.”[14]
  • postliminal rites (or rites of incorporation): During this stage, the initiand is re-incorporated into society with a new identity, as a “new” being.

Turner confirmed his nomenclature for 'the three phases of passage from one culturally defined state or status to another...preliminal, liminal, and postliminal'.[15]

Van Gennep considered rites of initiation to be the most typical rite.[16] To gain a better understanding of “tripartite structure” of liminal situations, one can look at a specific rite of initiation: the initiation of “youngsters into adulthood,” which Turner considered the most typical rite.[17] In such rites of passage, the experience is highly structured. The first phase (the rite of separation) requires the child to go through a separation from his family; this involves his/her “death” as a child, as childhood is effectively left behind.[18] In the second stage, initiands (between childhood and adulthood) must pass a “test” to prove they are ready for adulthood. If they succeed, the third stage (incorporation) involves a celebration of the “new birth” of the adult and a welcoming of that being back into society.[19]

By constructing this three-part sequence, van Gennep identified a pattern he believed was inherent in all ritual passages. By suggesting that such a sequence is universal (meaning that “all societies use rites to demarcate transitions”), van Gennep made an important claim (one that not many anthropologists make, as they generally tend to demonstrate cultural diversity while shying away from universality).[20]

An anthropological ritual, especially a rite of passage, involves some change to the participants, especially their social status.;[21] and in 'the first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behaviour signifying the detachment of the individual...from an earlier fixed point in the social structure.[22] Their status thus becomes liminal. In such a liminal situation, “the initiands live outside their normal environment and are brought to question their self and the existing social order through a series of rituals that often involve acts of pain: the initiands come to feel nameless, spatio-temporally dislocated and socially unstructured”.[23] In this sense, liminal periods are “destructive” as well as “constructive”, meaning that “the formative experiences during liminality will prepare the initiand (and his/her cohort) to occupy a new social role or status, made public during the reintegration rituals”.[24]

Victor Turner[edit]

Turner, who is considered to have “re-discovered the importance of liminality”, first came across van Gennep’s work in 1963.[25] In 1967 he published his book The Forest of Symbols, which included an essay entitled Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage. Within the works of Turner, liminality began to wander away from its narrow application to ritual passages in small-scale societies.[26] In the various works he completed while conducting his fieldwork amongst the Ndembu in Zambia, he made numerous connections between tribal and non-tribal societies, “sensing that what he argued for the Ndembu had relevance far beyond the specific ethnographic context”.[27] He became aware that liminality “...served not only to identify the importance of in-between periods, but also to understand the human reactions to liminal experiences: the way liminality shaped personality, the sudden foregrounding of agency, and the sometimes dramatic tying together of thought and experience”.[28]

'The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae ("threshold people") are necessarily ambiguous'.[29] One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation, but also the possibility of new perspectives. Turner posits that, if liminality is regarded as a time and place of withdrawal from normal modes of social action, it potentially can be seen as a period of scrutiny for central values and axioms of the culture where it occurs.[30] - one where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are undone. In such situations, “the very structure of society [is] temporarily suspended”[31]

'According to Turner, all liminality must eventually dissolve, for it is a state of great intensity that cannot exist very long without some sort of structure to stabilize it...either the individual returns to the surrounding social structure...or else liminal communities develop their own internal social structure, a condition Turner calls "normative communitas"'.[32]

The work of Victor Turner has vital significance in turning attention to this concept, introduced by Arnold van Gennep, a main intellectual opponent of Durkheim, who subsequently was diverted out of anthropological and sociological thinking. However, Turner’s approach to liminality has two major shortcomings. First, partly due to criticism, Turner was keen to limit the meaning of the concept to the concrete settings of small-scale tribal societies, preferring the neologism coined by him, ‘liminoid’, to analyse certain features of the modern world, like theatre (Turner 1982). However, Agnes Horvath (2013) argues that the term can be applied to concrete historical events, and should be applied, as offering a vital means for historical and sociological understanding. Second, again staying too close to his own experiences, Turner attributed a rather univocally positive connotation to liminal situations, as ways of renewal. However, liminal situations can be, and in actual fact in modern era, rather quite different: periods of uncertainly, anguish, even existential fear: a facing of the abyss in void.[33]

Communitas[edit]

During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants, such as social class, are often de-emphasized or ignored. A social structure of communitas forms: one based on common humanity and equality rather than recognized hierarchy. '"Communitas"...has positive values associated with it; good fellowship, spontaneity, warm contact...unhierarchised, undifferentiated social relations'.[34] For example, during a pilgrimage, members of an upper class and members of a lower class might mix and converse as equals, when in normal life they would rarely converse at all or their conversation might be limited to giving or receiving orders.[35] 'Such collapsing of classes and occupations in the new community...a full-scale "Communitas" of equal beings'[36] may be of longer or short-lived duration. According to Turner, this sense of Communitas is created as the pilgrims “distance themselves from mundane structures and their social identities, leading to a homogenization of status”.[37]

'Following Victor Turner in The Ritual Process', one may see such communitas as the product of 'anti-structure...Anti-structure is anti- "structure", ideological rejection of the idea of structure itself.[38] However anthropologists are currently in debate over whether the liminal stage of rituals has an absence of structure (anti-structure) or "hyper-structure", or whether both are possible[citation needed].

In general, 'the undifferentiated presents itself as preliminary to (re-)differentiation'; in the meantime, however, the darker side of liminality may produce alongside communitas 'undifferentiated monsters'[39] -'the unsavoury agonistic side of the community..."the dark mirror of what humanity is"'[40] - as 'the dissolution of differences encourages the proliferation of the double bind'.[41]

Types[edit]

Liminality has both spatial and temporal dimensions, and can be applied to a variety of subjects: individuals, larger groups (cohorts or villages), whole societies, and possibly even entire civilizations.[42] The following chart summarizes the different dimensions and subjects of liminal experiences, and also provides the main characteristics and key examples of each category.[43]

Individual Group Society
Moment
  • Sudden event affecting one’s life (death, divorce, illness) or individualized ritual passage (baptism, ritual passage to adulthood, as for example among the Ndembu).
  • Ritual passage to adulthood (almost always in cohorts); graduation ceremonies, etc.
  • A whole society facing a sudden event (sudden invasion, natural disaster, a plague) where social distinctions and normal hierarchy disappear;
  • Carnivals;
  • Revolutions.
Period
  • Critical life-stages;
  • Puberty or teenage years.
  • Ritual passage to adulthood, which may extend into weeks or months in some societies;
  • Group travels;
  • Going to university, college or taking a gap year.
  • Wars;
  • Revolutionary periods.
Epoch (or life-span duration)
  • Individuals standing “outside society”, by choice or designated;
  • Monkhood;
  • In some tribal societies, individuals remain “dangerous” because of a failed ritual passage;
  • Twins are permanently liminal in some societies.
  • Religious Fraternities, Ethnic minorities, Social minorities, Transgender;
  • Immigrant groups betwixt and between;
  • Old and new culture;
  • Groups that live at the edge of “normal structures”, often perceived as both dangerous and “holy”.
  • Prolonged wars, enduring political instability, prolonged intellectual confusion; Incorporation and reproduction of liminality into “structures”;
  • Modernity as "permanent liminality".

Another significant variable is “scale,” or the “degree” to which an individual or group experiences liminality.[44] In other words, “there are degrees of liminality, and…the degree depends on the extent to which the liminal experience can be weighed against persisting structures.".[45] When the spatial and temporal are both affected, the intensity of the liminal experience increases and so-called “pure liminality” is approached[46]

Liminal experiences in large-scale societies[edit]

The concept of a liminal situation can also be applied to entire societies that are going through a crisis or a “collapse of order”.[47] Philosopher Karl Jaspers made a significant contribution to this idea through his concept of the “axial age,” which was “an in-between period between two structured world-views and between two rounds of empire building; it was an age of creativity where ‘man asked radical questions’, and where the ‘unquestioned grasp on life is loosened’”.[48] It was essentially a time of uncertainty which, most importantly, involved entire civilizations. Seeing as liminal periods are both destructive and constructive, the ideas and practices that emerge from these liminal historical periods are of extreme importance, as they will “tend to take on the quality of structure”.[49] Events such as political or social revolutions (along with other periods of crisis) can thus be considered liminal, as they result in the complete collapse of order and can lead to significant social change.[50]

Liminality in large-scale societies differs significantly from liminality found in ritual passages in small-scale societies. One primary characteristic of liminality (as defined van Gennep and Turner) is that there is a way in as well as a way out.[51] In ritual passages, “members of the society are themselves aware of the liminal state: they know that they will leave it sooner or later, and have ‘ceremony masters’ to guide them through the rituals”.[52] However, in those liminal periods that affect society as a whole, the future (what comes after the liminal period) is completely unknown, and there is no "ceremony master" who has gone through the process before and that can lead people out of it.[53]

In such cases, liminal situations can become dangerous. They allow for the emergence of “self-proclaimed ceremony masters”, that assume leadership positions and attempt to “[perpetuate] liminality and by emptying the liminal moment of real creativity, [turn] it into a scene of mimetic rivalry”.[54]

Permanent or Fixed liminality[edit]

Turner suggested that “a liminal state may become ‘fixed’, referring to a situation in which the suspended character of social life takes on a more permanent character.”[55] This idea of permanent liminality has been elaborated on extensively in numerous works by sociologist Arpad Szakolczai.

Within the context of ritual passages, a key feature of liminality is the final stage of reintegration, in which the initiand is recognized as a part of the social order and is welcomed into that order with a new role, “stamped by the formative experience”.[56] When this reintegration process does not take place, liminality becomes permanent, and can also become very dangerous. In his book Reflexive Historical Sociology, Arpad Szakolczai argues that there are three types of permanent liminality, each closely related to one of the phases of the rites of passage.[57] He acknowledges that “liminality becomes a permanent condition when any of the phases in this sequence becomes frozen, as if a film stopped at a particular frame”.[58] Szakolczai provides three examples of each type of permanent liminality: “monasticism (with monks endlessly preparing the separation, [representing the first stage]), court society (with individuals continuously performing their roles in an endless ceremonial game, [representing the second stage]), and Bolshevism (as exemplifying a society stuck in the final stage of a ritual passage)”.[59]

Imitation, leadership, and the role of the trickster[edit]

Mimesis, or the imitative aspect of human behavior, is an important aspect of liminality.[60] Individuals who are trapped in a liminal situation are not able to act rationally for two reasons: “first, because the structure on which ‘objective’ rationality was-- based has disappeared; and second, because the stressful, emotive character of a liminal crisis prevents clear thinking”.[61] This can lead to “mimetic” behavior on the part of the trapped individuals: “a central characteristic of liminal situations is that, by eliminating the stable boundary lines, they contribute to the proliferation of imitative processes and thus to the continuous reproduction of dominant messages about what to copy”.[62] Without stable institutions (which are effectively broken down in a liminal period), “people will look at concrete individuals for guidance”.[63]

This notion of imitation is closely tied to that of the trickster figure. The trickster is a universal figure that can be found in folktales and myths of nearly all cultures. These tricksters can be characterized as follows:

[they] are always marginal characters: outsiders, as they cannot trust or be trusted, cannot give or share, they are incapable of living in a community; they are repulsive, as – being insatiable – they are characterized by excessive eating, drinking, and sexual behavior, having no sense of shame; they are not taken seriously, given their affinity with jokes, storytelling, and fantasizing.[64]

In the context of liminality, the trickster is a very dangerous figure: “in a liminal situation where certainties are lost, imitative behavior escalates, and tricksters can be mistaken for charismatic leaders”.[65] This means that in their search for guidance, the individuals caught in the liminal situation might choose to follow a trickster, whom they confuse with a charismatic leader capable of “saving” them. Liminal periods that affect entire societies are characterized by the absence of a “master of ceremonies” (the leadership figures that are supposed to lead the initiands out of the liminal phase), which can in turn lead to the rise of tricksters into positions of power. When a trickster enters into a position of leadership, “liminality will not be restricted to a temporary crisis, followed by a return to normality, but can be perpetuated endlessly”.[66] This can be explained by three important characteristics of the trickster: his lack of a home (the trickster is, by definition, homeless and an outsider), lack of deeply felt human relations, and lack of existential commitments.[67] These traits cause the trickster to have no interest in solving the liminal crisis; “on the contrary, being really at home in liminality, or in homelessness, his real interest lies in its opposite, in perpetuating such conditions of confusion”.[68] On the other hand, the trickster is also a mime. “Imitation, whether in learning or in social activity, is only possible in so far as we are not aware that we are actually imitating…because as soon as we do so, imitation becomes a mere miming and would produce no effect in learning or no pleasure in involvement”.[69] Seeing as the trickster is incapable of “experiencing learning or the pleasure of sociability” as others do, he can be considered a mime rather than an imitator.[70] He thus appears to act just as everyone else does. With this in mind, there are “two characteristics [of the trickster] that under certain conditions could turn to be profitable, even [leading him to gain] unlimited and total power”: “his permanent state of exteriority helps him to think rationally and makes him a good mime: he cannot learn by genuine imitation but learns how to mime others and this produces laughter; thus he receives appreciation that otherwise he would never obtain”.[71]

The term schismogenesis, developed by British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, can be used to describe situations of permanent liminality. Through this concept, Bateson suggested “that societies can be stuck for a long time in a state where the previous unity was broken, and yet the schismatic components are forced to stay together, producing an unpleasant, violent, harrowing, truly miserable existence”.[72] Bateson further suggested that “entire cultures might systematically produce schizoid personalities” and, by combining such an idea with the work of Turner and anthropologist René Girard, one could say that the trickster is capable of founding such a culture. Girard’s concept of mimetic desire (and, more importantly, the phenomenon he called the “mimetic crisis”) can be linked to the trickster and to absence of masters of ceremonies in large-scale instances of liminality:

When a mimetic crisis is artificially staged in the ritual process, it always happens in the presence of a “master of ceremonies” who maintains order once the stabilities of everyday life are dissolved in the rites of separation. When the schism takes place in real life, however, it is not certain that charismatic heroes emerge that are up to solving the situation through eidetic perception, in the Platonic sense.[73]

In any normal situation, the trickster would not be able to gain any appreciation from others, but in a crisis situation (which, as an outsider, the trickster has no emotional connections to), “might come up with a rational way of ‘solving’ the crisis by turning things into his own image”.[74] It is precisely in these situations that “schismatic doubling and copying are escalated, and the erratic, even repulsive, becomes normal”.[75] Once others become aware of the true nature of the trickster’s behavior, it “becomes a genuine problem as a trickster character cannot be altered, so there is genuinely no solution”.[76] It is also not possible for the trickster figure to be punished, as “punishment is only meaningful if there is a chance of correction and improvement, which is hopeless in the case of a trickster character”.[77]

Some examples of trickster figures of 20th century politics include Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin.[78] Szakolczai describes what can happen when such tricksters emerge in positions of power:

When trickster figures are mistaken for saviors, then emotions will be continually and repeatedly incited, until the community is reduced to a schismatic state. Societies can maintain themselves in such situations of oppression and violence for a long time, without returning to normal order, if stable external referent points are absent. This is why schismogenic societies need to maintain themselves in a perpetual state of war; presumably surrounded by enemies who try to conquer and destroy them.[79]

Thus the culture that is established by such tricksters following their rise to power “can have its structure and persistence, as the negative sentiments of hatred, hostility, fear and envy, based on vital instincts of self-preservation, can indeed maintain in the long term a social order in a relative state of stability”.[80] But in addition, this same society would “preserve, forever, its broken, fragmented, schismatic character”.[81]

Communism[edit]

In Reflexive Historical Sociology, Szakolczai elaborates on the classification of “Soviet-type Bolshevism” as an example of the third kind of permanent liminality:

The communist regimes in Europe and Asia were all established under one very special kind of condition: the end of a world war. If all wars are liminal situations in which the cycle of mimetic violence escalates beyond measure, then the closing stages of a world war, and especially the process of reconstruction that starts after such massive warfare, can be conceived of as a rite of reaggregation. The singular specificity of communist regimes, however, was to play continuously on the sentiments of suffering, revenge and hatred, prevent the settling down of the negative emotions, stir up the worst in human feelings by submitting a population…first to an endless civil war and then to a period of forced and unintelligible terror. Communism was a regime in which the Second World War never ended.[82]

The liminal period that began at the end of World War II allowed the communists to take power “and unfold a characteristic self-sustaining mechanism, turning the entire mechanism of crisis solution into reverse gear: tricking and fixing an entire country into the position of the outcast for generations to come, first in the original Russian case, itself a miming copy of the French Revolution, and then in its East European satellites”.[83] It was the conditions of “disorganization, depravity, and suffering” present following the war that allowed the communists to rise to power, as “the normal mechanisms of social and political order [had] become so weak that even the minuscule forces that a Communist party [managed] to mobilize [was] enough to grasp power”.[84] In the wake of the war, “populations had already suffered immensely due to economic or political crises, but then, beyond that, with the establishment of communist power, the entire past, the history, identity, and memory of these countries were demolished, until a new and total imprint was stamped upon them through cunning thinking and trickery, forming a new type of ‘objective’ existence”.[85]

The communists pursued a “revaluation of values” in order to reinforce their own system. The trickster used the technique of “flirting” to achieve this, meaning the “systematic teasing of the population with an imminent state of bliss”.[86] By using this technique, the communists “were able to perform the feat of maintaining adherence to their policies by a significant minority of the faithful while keeping hidden what was actually going on as well as the resulting fear and disappointment”.[87] Horvath and Thomassen cite Hungarian communist party and state leader Mátyás Rákosi’s political speeches to the public as an example of the importance of the trickster’s political communication. Such speeches “communicated a shared liminal condition, as messages sent out to evoke the sympathy of other defenseless human beings in the same position of the outcast”.[88] In these speeches, Rákosi also provided a justification for the need of communist rule: “The speeches promise relief from pressures to worry and concern by substituting it with their own version of vigilance that is centralized and mechanical, and where the communists can serve as guides”.[89]

Another aspect of the communist strategy of seizing power involved the “overplaying” of the identity “between their position as the outcast and the general state of the population”.[90] Immediately following the war, the communists had to “render identical two different types of motivations: the normal, healthy attempt at reconstruction and the redressing of social grievances at the political level, and the attempt by the communists to satisfy their own fascination for recognition and appeal that had already become chronic, short-circuited and endless due to long decades of repression”.[91]

Depth psychology[edit]

Jungians have often seen the individuation process of self-realisation as taking place within a liminal space. 'Individuation begins with a withdrawal from normal modes of socialisation, epitomized by the breakdown of the persona...liminality'.[92] Thus "what Turner's concept of social liminality does for status in society, Jung...does for the movement of the person through the life process of individuation".[93] Individuation can be seen as a "movement through liminal space and time, from disorientation to integration....What takes place in the dark phase of liminality is a process of breaking down...in the interest of "making whole" one's meaning, purpose and sense of relatedness once more'"[94] As an archetypal figure, "the trickster is a symbol of the liminal state itself, and of its permanent accessibility as a source of recreative power".[95]

But other depth psychologies speak of a similar process. Carl Rogers describes "the 'out-of-this-world' quality that many therapists have remarked upon, a sort of trance-like feeling in the relationship that client and therapist emerge from at the end of the hour, as if from a deep well or tunnel.[96] The French talk of how the anaytic setting 'opens/forges the "intermediate space," "excluded middle," or "between" that figures so importantly in Irigaray's writing".[97] Marion Milner claimed that "a temporal spatial frame also marks off the special kind of reality of a psycho-analytic session...the different kind of reality that is within it".[98]

Jungians however have perhaps been most explicit about the 'need to accord space, time and place for liminal feeling'[99] - as well about the associated dangers, 'two mistakes: we provide no ritual space at all in our lives...or we stay in it too long'.[100] Indeed, Jung's psychology has itself been described as 'a form of "permanent liminality" in which there is no need to return to social structure'.[101]

Examples of general usage[edit]

In rituals[edit]

In the context of rituals, liminality is being artificially produced, as opposed to those situations (such as natural disasters) in which it can occur spontaneously.[102] In the simple example of a college graduation ceremony, the liminal phase can actually be extended to include the period of time between when the last assignment was finished (and graduation was assured) all the way through reception of the diploma. That no man's land represents the limbo associated with liminality. The stress of accomplishing tasks for college has been lifted, yet the individual has not moved on to a new stage in life (psychologically or physically). The result is a unique perspective on what has come before, and what may come next.

It can include the period between when a couple get engaged and their marriage or between death and burial, for which cultures may have set ritual observances. Even sexually liberal cultures may strongly disapprove of an engaged spouse having sex with another person during this time.

When a marriage proposal is initiated there is a liminal stage between the question and the answer during which the social arrangements of both parties involved are subject to transformation and inversion; a sort of "life stage limbo" so to speak in that the affirmation or denial can result in multiple and diverse outcomes.

Getz[103] provides commentary on the liminal/liminoid zone when discussing the planned event experience. He refers to a liminal zone at an event as the creation of "time out of time: a special place". He notes that this liminal zone is both spatial and temporal and integral when planning a successful event (e.g. ceremony, concert, conference etc.).[104]

In time[edit]

The temporal dimension of liminality can relate to moments (sudden events), periods (weeks, months, or possibly years), and epochs (decades, generations, maybe even centuries).[105]

Twilight serves as a liminal time, between day and night - where one is 'in the twilight zone, in a liminal nether region of the night'.[106] The title of the television fiction series The Twilight Zone makes reference to this, describing it as "the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition" in one variant of the original series' opening. The name is from an actual zone observable from space in the place where daylight or shadow advances or retreats about the Earth. Noon and, more often, midnight can be considered liminal, the first transitioning between morning and afternoon, the latter between days.

The Twilight Saga also references this in its title. Each book title speaks of a liminal period (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn). Furthermore, the setting of the series also speaks of liminality- Forks (a fork in the road).

Within the years, liminal times include equinoxes when day and night have equal length, and solstices, when the increase of day or night shifts over to its decrease. Where the Quarter days are held to mark the change in seasons, they also are liminal times.

New Year's Day, whatever its connection or lack of one to the astrological sky, is a liminal time. Customs such as fortune-telling take advantage of this liminal state. In a number of cultures, actions and events on the first day of the year can determine the year, leading to such beliefs as First-Foot. Many cultures regard it as a time especially prone to hauntings by ghosts -- liminal beings, neither alive nor dead.

In religion[edit]

Christian worship[edit]

Liminal existence can be located in a separated sacred space, which occupies a sacred time. Examples in the Bible include the dream of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-19) where he encounters God between heaven and earth and the instance when Isaiah meets the Lord in the temple of holiness (Isaiah 6:1-6).[107] In such a liminal space, the individual experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge where God imparts His knowledge on the person.

Worship can be understood in this context as the church community (or communitas or koinonia) enter into liminal space corporately.[108] Religious symbols and music may aid in this process described as a pilgrimage by way of prayer, song, or liturgical acts. The congregation is transformed in the liminal space and as they exit, are sent out back into the world to serve.

Of beings[edit]

Various minority groups can be considered liminal. In reality illegal immigrants (present but not "official"), and stateless people, for example, are regarded as liminal because they are "betwixt and between home and host, part of society, but sometimes never fully integrated".[109] Intersexual or transgender people, bisexual people in most contemporary societies, people of mixed ethnicity, and those accused but not yet judged guilty or not guilty, are liminal. Teenagers, being neither children nor adults, are liminal people: indeed, "for young people, liminality of this kind has become a permanent phenomenon...Postmodern liminality".[110] The "trickster as the mythic projection of the magician - standing in the limen between the sacred realm and the profane"[111] and related archetypes embody many such contradictions as do many popular culture celebrities. The category could also hypothetically and in fiction include cyborgs, hybrids between two species, shapeshifters. One could also consider seals, crabs, shorebirds, frogs, bats, dolphins/whales and other "border animals" to be liminal: "the wild duck and swan are cases in point...intermediate creatures that combine underwater activity and the bird flight with an intermediate, terrestrial life".[112] It should come as no surprise that these liminal creatures figure prominently in mythology as shapeshifters and spirit guides.

In places[edit]

The spatial dimension of liminality can include specific places, larger zones or areas, or entire countries and larger regions.[113] Liminal places can range from borders and frontiers to no man's lands and disputed territories, to crossroads to perhaps airports or hotels, which people pass through but do not live in: arguably indeed all 'romantic travel enacts the three stages that characterize liminality: separation, marginalization, and reaggregation'.[114] In mythology and religion or esoteric lore liminality can include such realms as Purgatory or Da'at, which, as well as signifying liminality, some theologians deny actually existing, making them, in some cases, doubly liminal. "Between-ness" defines these spaces. For a hotel worker (an insider) or a person passing by with disinterest (a total outsider), the hotel would have a very different connotation. To a traveller staying there, the hotel would function as a liminal zone, just as 'doors and windows and hallways and gates frame...the definitively liminal condition'.[115]

More conventionally, springs, caves, shores, rivers, volcanic calderas - 'a huge crater of an extinct volcano...[as] another symbol of transcendence'[116] - fords, passes, crossroads, bridges, and marshes are all liminal: '"edges", borders or faultlines between the legitimate and the illegitimate'.[117] Oedipus (an adoptee and therefore liminal) met his father at the crossroads and killed him; the bluesman Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, where he is said to have sold his soul. Major transformations occur at crossroads and other liminal places, at least partly because liminality—being so unstable—can pave the way for access to esoteric knowledge or understanding of both sides. Liminality is sacred, alluring, and dangerous.

In folklore[edit]

There are a number of stories in folklore of those who could only be killed in a liminal space: Lleu could not be killed during the day or night, nor indoors or outdoors, nor riding or walking, nor clothed or naked (and is attacked at dusk, while wrapped in a net with one foot on a cauldron and one on a goat). Likewise, in Hindu text Bhagavat Purana, God Vishnu appears in a half-man half-lion form named Narasimha to destroy the demon Hiranyakashipu who has obtained the power never to be killed in day nor night, in the ground nor in the air, with weapon nor by bare hands, in a building nor outside it, by man nor beast. Narasimha kills Hiranyakashipu at dusk, across his lap, with his sharp claws, on the threshold of the palace, and as Narasimha is God himself, the demon is killed by neither man nor beast. In the Mahabharata, Indra promises not to slay Namuci and Vritra with anything wet or dry, nor in the day or in the night, but instead kills them at dusk with foam.[118] Yet another example comes from Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" in which the Forest Spirit can only be killed while switching between its two forms.

In ethnographic research[edit]

In ethnographic research, 'the researcher is...in a liminal state, separated from his own culture yet not incorporated into the host culture'[119] - when he or she is both participating in the culture and observing the culture. The researcher must consider the self in relation to others and his or her positioning in the culture being studied.

In many cases, greater participation in the group being studied can lead to increased access of cultural information and greater in-group understanding of experiences within the culture. However increased participation also blurs the role of the researcher in data collection and analysis. Often a researcher that engages in fieldwork as a "participant" or "participant-observer" occupies a liminal state where he/she is a part of the culture, but also separated from the culture as a researcher. This liminal state of being betwixt and between is emotional and uncomfortable as the researcher uses self-reflexivity to interpret field observations and interviews.

Some scholars argue that ethnographers are present in their research, occupying a liminal state, regardless of their participant status. Justification for this position is that the researcher as a "human instrument" engages with his/her observations in the process of recording and analyzing the data. A researcher, often unconsciously, selects what to observe, how to record observations and how to interpret observations based on personal reference points and experiences. For example, even in selecting what observations are interesting to record, the researcher must interpret and value the data available. To explore the liminal state of the researcher in relation to the culture, self-reflexivity and awareness are important tools to reveal researcher bias and interpretation.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Twilight Zone (1959–2003) is a U.S. television anthology series.
  • Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey (2007), a U.S. novel by Chuck Palahniuk, makes use of liminality in explaining time travel.
  • Possession, a romance by A. S. Byatt, describes how postmodern 'Literary theory. Feminism...write about liminality. Thresholds. Bastions. Fortresses'.[120]
  • The Terminal (2004), is a U.S. film in which the main character (Viktor Navorski) is trapped in a liminal space; since he can neither legally return to his home country Krakozhia nor enter the United States, he must remain in the airport terminal indefinitely until he finds a way out at the end of the film.
  • Offshore, a British novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, whose characters live between sea and land (docked boats), becoming liminal people. Liminality is a major theme in the novel.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play by dramatist Tom Stoppard, which takes place both in a kind of no-man's-land and the actual setting of Hamlet.
  • '"Hamlet" is in several ways an essay in sustained liminality...only via a condition of complete liminality can Hamlet finally see the way forward'.[121]
  • 'Bellow's wonderfully varied uses of liminality...include his Dangling Man, suspended between civilian life and the armed forces'[122] at 'the onset of the dangling days'.[123]
  • .hack//Liminality where Harald Hoerwick, the creator of the MMORPG "The World", attempted to bring the real world into the online world, creating a hazy barrier between the two worlds; a concept called "Liminality".
  • "Liminal Space" is an album by American Breakcore artist Xanopticon.
  • The Twilight Saga a book and movie series by Stephanie Meyer. Each book title speaks of a liminal period (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn)
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), Milo enters "The Lands Beyond", a liminal place (which explains its topsy-turvy nature), through the tollbooth. When he finishes his quest, he returns, but changed, seeing the world differently. The giver of the tollbooth is never seen and name never known, and hence, also remains liminal.
  • Coil mention liminality throughout their works, most explicitly with the title of their song "Batwings (A Limnal Hymn)" (sic) from their album Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 2.

Liminoid[edit]

Turner coined the term liminoid to refer to experiences that have characteristics of liminal experiences but are optional and don't involve a resolution of a personal crisis.[124] A graduation ceremony might be regarded as liminal while a rock concert might be understood to be liminoid. The liminal is part of society, an aspect of social or religious ritual, while the liminoid is a break from society, part of play. Turner stated that liminal rituals are rare and diminished in industrial societies, and 'forged the concept of "liminoid" rituals for analogous but secular phenomena'[125] - liminoid experiences.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "liminal", Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. OED Online Oxforde 23, 2007; cf. subliminal.
  2. ^ "Liminality and Communitas", in "The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure" (New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction Press, 2008).
  3. ^ Bjørn Thomassen, The Uses and Meanings of Liminality (International Political Anthropology 2009) p. 51
  4. ^ Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology 2009)
  5. ^ Arpad Szakolczai, Liminality and Experience: Structuring transitory situations and transformative events (International Political Anthropology 2009) p. 141
  6. ^ Thomas Barfield, The Dictionary of Anthropology (1997) p. 477
  7. ^ Thomassen 2009, 6
  8. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 141
  9. ^ Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London 1977) p. 21
  10. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 147
  11. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 148
  12. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 148
  13. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 148
  14. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 141
  15. ^ Victor W. Turner, The Ritual Process (Penguin 1969) p. 155
  16. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 147
  17. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 147
  18. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 148
  19. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 148
  20. ^ Thomassen 2009, 6-7
  21. ^ Victor Turner, "Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage", in The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967).
  22. ^ Turner, Ritual p. 80
  23. ^ Bjørn Thomassen, "Liminality" in The Encyclopedia of Social Theory(London 2006) p. 322
  24. ^ Thomassen 2006, 322
  25. ^ Thomassen 2009, 14
  26. ^ Thomassen 2009, 14
  27. ^ Thomassen 2009, 14
  28. ^ Thomassen 2009, 14
  29. ^ Turner Ritual p. 81
  30. ^ Turner, Ritual p. 156
  31. ^ Szakolczai 2009, 142
  32. ^ Peter Homas, Jung in Context (London 1979) p. 207
  33. ^ Horvath, Agnes. Modernism and Charisma. Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan. 2013.
  34. ^ Mary Douglas, Implicit Meanings (London 1984) p. 104
  35. ^ Turner, Victor and Edith. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. Oxford: Columbia University Press, 1978.
  36. ^ A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Siva (Middlesex 1979) p. 35
  37. ^ Thomassen 2009, 15
  38. ^ Ramanujan, Siva p. 34-5
  39. ^ Rene Girard, "To double business bound" (Baltimore 1988) p. 156 and p. 168
  40. ^ Jason Scott quote, Andrew Lih, The Wikipedia Revolution (London 2009) p. 130-1
  41. ^ Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred (London 1992) p. 188
  42. ^ Thomassen 2009, 16
  43. ^ Thomassen 2009, 16
  44. ^ Thomassen 2009, 17
  45. ^ Thomassen 2009, 18
  46. ^ Thomassen 2009, 18
  47. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 19
  48. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 19-20
  49. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 20
  50. ^ Thomassen 2006, p. 323
  51. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 21
  52. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 21
  53. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 22
  54. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 22
  55. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 15
  56. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 22
  57. ^ Arpad Szakolczai, Reflexive Historical Sociology(London: Routledge, 2000) p. 220
  58. ^ Szakolczai 2000, p. 220
  59. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 23
  60. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 154
  61. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 154
  62. ^ Horvath 2009, p. 55
  63. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 156
  64. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 155
  65. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 155
  66. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 155
  67. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 13
  68. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 13
  69. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 14
  70. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 14
  71. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 15
  72. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 155
  73. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 13
  74. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 15
  75. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 15
  76. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 14
  77. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 14
  78. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 157
  79. ^ Szakolczai 2009, p. 157
  80. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 15
  81. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 15
  82. ^ Szakolczai 2000, p. 223
  83. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 17
  84. ^ Horvath 2009, p. 52
  85. ^ Horvath 2009, p. 69
  86. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 18
  87. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 18
  88. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 16
  89. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 16
  90. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 18
  91. ^ Horvath and Thomassen 2008, p. 18
  92. ^ Homans 1979, 207.
  93. ^ Hall, quoted in Miller and Jung 2004, 104.
  94. ^ Shorter 1988, 73 and 79.
  95. ^ Robert Pelton in Young-Eisendrath and Dawson eds. 1997, 244
  96. ^ Rogers 1961, 202.
  97. ^ E. Hirsh, in Burke et al eds 1994, 309n
  98. ^ Quoted in Casement 1997, 158.
  99. ^ Shorter 1988, 79.
  100. ^ Bly, 1991, 194.
  101. ^ Homans 1979, 208.
  102. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 18
  103. ^ Getz 2007, 179.
  104. ^ Getz 2007, 442.
  105. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 16
  106. ^ Costello 2002, 158.
  107. ^ Carson, 2003, 61.
  108. ^ Carson 2003, 61.
  109. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 19
  110. ^ Kahane 1997, 31.
  111. ^ Nicholas 2009, 25.
  112. ^ Joseph Henderson in Jung 1978, 153.
  113. ^ Thomassen 2009, p. 16
  114. ^ Illowz 1997, 143.
  115. ^ Richard Brown in Corcoran 2002, 211.
  116. ^ Joseph Henderson, in Jung 1978, 152.
  117. ^ Richard Brown in Corcoran 2002, 196
  118. ^ "Vritra". Encyclopedia of Religion. Macmillan Reference USA/Gale Group. 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-22. 
  119. ^ Norris Johnson, in Robben and Sluka 2007, 76
  120. ^ Byatt 1990, 505-6.
  121. ^ Liebler, p. 182-4
  122. ^ Elsbree 1991, 66.
  123. ^ Bellow 1977, 84.
  124. ^ Turner, Victor. 'Liminal to liminoid in play, flow, and ritual: An essay in comparative symbology'. Rice University Studies 1974. 60(3):53-92
  125. ^ Illowz, Consuming p. 142

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