Victor Turner and liminality: An introduction

By: Harry Wels, Kees van der Waal, Andrew Spiegel & Frans Kamsteeg
Pages 1-4

Victor Turner ( 1920-1983) is a household name in anthropology. His work is also widely influential in literature studies, theology, organisation studies and other interpretive disciplines. He studied anthropology at University College, London and, after receiving his BA degree with honours, he continued his studies under South African exile, Max Gluckman, who - having spent many years at the Rhodes Livingstone Institute in what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) -founded and was the inspired leader of what came to be known in anthropology as the Manchester School - at the University of Manchester (Gewald 2007).


Liminoid religion: Ritual practice in alternative spirituality in the Netherlands

By: P.G.A. Versteeg
Pages 5-10

Abstract: Alternative spirituality can be seen as a particular form of religious practice related to processes of de-traditionalisation and deinstitutionalisation. Although often regarded as a western, secularised phenomenon, such alternative forms of spirituality are becoming increasingly popular among the middle classes worldwide and in the Netherlands in particular. In this article I look at the distinction between institutional religion and spirituality through the lenses of liminality and the liminoid. I argue that religion is becoming a liminoid domain in society and, through an example from Christian spirituality in the Netherlands, I show how, in spirituality, religion itself becomes liminoid, suggesting a subjectivised approach to identity and meaning.

Subjects: Religion, spirituality, ritual, Netherlands, liminoid, subjectivisation


Categorical difference versus continuum: Rethinking Turner's liminal-liminoid distinction

By: Andrew D Spiegel

Pages 11-20

Abstract: Turner's distinction between liminal and liminoid is not commonly drawn upon, liminality being seen and applied to all ‘betwixt and between’ social situations. Yet Turner's distinction, once appropriately revised, offers a more nuanced means to understand such situations. The criteria Turner originally used to construct the distinction have, however, created a tendency towards its being used to perpetuate a crude and by now passé primitive-versus-civilised/modern distinction of societal types. Starting with brief reference to South Africa's World Cup 2010 event and using various other illustrative examples, the article outlines Turner's original conceptualisation of the liminal-liminoid distinction. It then proposes an alternative way of understanding that distinction—seeing liminal and liminoid as opposite ends of a continuum stretching between two ideal type social situations. It further argues that all real such social situations demonstrate aspects of both liminal and liminoid within them, the extent of each being what differentiates them.

Subjects: Liminal, liminoid, continuum, social solidarity, transgression, disruption, reproduction


Transitional and perpetual liminality: An identity practice perspective

By: Sierk Ybema, Nie Beech & Nick Ellis

Pages 21-29

Abstract: In this article we combine a focus on ‘liminality’ with an analysis of social actors' discursive practices of identity position taking. An exploration of in-depth organisational studies shorn the relevance of ‘liminality’ as a conceptual focus for describing individuals' identity accounts in two different social contexts: (i) actors who experience going through a transformational change from one ‘identity position’ to another, and (ii) actors' sense of being in-between two identity positions for a prolonged period of time. The liminal experience of actors in the first situation might be referred to as transitional betweennes s (liminality as pertaining to a relatively time-constrained phase in-between two identity positions); the second as perpetual betweenness (liminality as an ongoing state of affairs, balancing on the notional boundaries in-between two or more social categories). An analysis of actors' self-positioning points out that transitional ‘liminars’ abandon ‘old’ identities and construct ‘new’ identities when talking about themselves. Perpetual liminars, on the other hand, do not so much rely on temporal talk to describe their identities, ascribing oldness and newness to their various ‘selves’, but instead respond to conflicting loyalties and obligations by constantly switching from one identity to the other in their relational (self-other) talk, oscillating between ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘same’ and ‘other’, and between an inclusive and exclusive ‘us’. More generally, we show how bringing together the concepts of liminality and identity may help to generate a grounded understanding of how social actors manoeuvre through socially complex, dynamic and demanding situations.

Subjects: Boundaries, discourse, identity, liminality, organization, practices


Waiting in liminal space: Migrants' queuing for Home Affairs in South Africa

By: Rebecca Sutton, Darshan Vigneswaran & Harry Wels

Pages 30-37

Abstract:  Waiting is a common feature of everyday encounters between individuals and organisations. Government officials and private sector workers make us wait for decisions, wait for services and sometimes, simply wait our turn. Yet, little attention has been devoted to theorising and developing the concept of ‘waiting’, and it is noticeably absent in the literature on social organisations and organisational behaviour. In this article, we seek to add texture and meaning to the experience of waiting and to explore the unique set of power relations and social processes the phenomenon may entail. More specifically, drawing on the work of Victor Turner, we describe waiting as a liminal experience, as a transitory and transformative space which lies between life stages, statuses and material contexts. We then develop the idea by scrutinising a particular form of encounter between individuals and organisations, that between the foreign migrant and the state bureaucracy in contemporary South Africa.

Subjects: Migrants, liminality, waiting, power, Turner


FIFA 2010 and the elusive spirit of communitas: A return to Victor Turner (with some differences)

By: Oliver Human & Steven Robins

Pages 38-50

Abstract: This article focuses on two cases of elusive and hyper-transient expressions of ‘communitas’ that seem to have been structured by specific conditions of liminality. These are the FIFA World Cup 2010 and the experiences of young Zimbabwean refugees living in Cape Town. In the course of the analysis we draw attention to the limits and possibilities of Turner's analysis of the ritual process for understanding contemporary forms of sociality. In each case we illustrate how a liminal period establishes an experience of ecstatic solidarity and high connectivity as reactions to, as well as products of, the neoliberal capitalist system which dominates African sociality today. We discuss how the 2010 World Cup created the conditions for South Africans to experience a hyper-transient form of communitas that, unfortunately, seemed seamlessly to morph into the scapegoating of African foreigners just as the sporting event drew to a close. In contrast, we illustrate how a group of Zimbabweans depend upon communitas in order to survive and develop a sense of structure in their liminal positions as foreigners in xenophobic South Africa, especially facing threats of violence at the end of the World Cup. We hope that doing this allows us to illustrate the productivity of Turner's concept of communitas for understanding a wide variety of contemporary social and political phenomena, including that which can be seen as the ‘underbelly’ of communitas.

Subjects: Liminality, structure, communitas, refugees, FIFA World Cup 2010


Transformation as social drama: Stories about merging at North West University, South Africa

By: F.H. Kamsteeg

Pages 51-61

Abstract: South African higher education is going through a transitional phase of transformation in which existing cultures and identities are strongly contested. The ambiguity and insecurity that come along with such a process are demonstrated in this article through presentation of two rival ‘narratives of change’ that can be found packed into a number of reports concerning the merger of universities that now form the North West University. Following Victor Turner's vocabulary, this transitional phase of social, political, and organisational restructuring is labelled a social drama. This is because the changes in the higher education sector starting in 2004 have meant a breach in the normative order at various higher education institutions, a breach that has caused feelings of insecurity and crisis which the South African government has tried to deal with through a series of redressive actions. The different narratives dealing with the particular institutional transformation, the outcome of which is North West University, are a clear demonstration of what Turner refers to as the liminal and indeterminate aspects of social drama.

Subjects: Transformation, university, social drama, culture, liminality, South Africa, narrative


A return to Turner: Liminalities in Afrikaner identity politics after apartheid

By: Kees (C. S.) van der Waal

Pages 62-72

Abstract: This article explores interpretive possibilities offered by the concept of liminality in the context of identity politics in South Africa in an attempt to build on the rich and stimulating work of Victor Turner towards a comparative and contextual analysis. Degrees and variations of liminality are identified; I am interested, for instance, in whether it is part of hegemonic domination or tactical resistance, historically structured or innovative, and how it is related to class, gender and race in order to go beyond structural positions and social categories. After looking at the current South African transition as a liminal phase, manifestations of Afrikaner/Afrikaans cultural politics are investigated on the level of individual and collective liminality, drawing from the literature, fieldwork and personal experience. With regard to individual and social identity based on Afrikaans, liminality appears, under certain conditions, as either a form of defensive victimhood or as social connectedness and creolisation.

Subjects: Liminality, cultural politics, Afrikaans, creolisation, identity, transition, South Africa, disability


The liminality of kidney failure in South African state hospitals

By: Diana Gibson

Pages 73-80

Abstract: Experiences of patients attempting to gain access to dialysis in state health services in the Western Cape provide examples that illustrate the usefulness of Turner's work on liminality in relation to the South African healthcare system. The ritualised routines of hospitalisation, and sufferers' encounters with the health services, have frequently been described as rites of passage—from separation to reintegration with a new social status—eg. as a healthy person after surgery or a new mother after giving birth. For people with final stage kidney failure, however, the situation can be more ambiguous as they move through different levels of care, or are expected to wait eg. for a kidney transplant and/or dialysis. The article focuses on the interstitiality of space, time and experience, while these sufferers remain in limbo, between medical conditions and diagnoses, services and facilities.

Subjects: Liminality, kidney failure, dialysis, hospital, Turner


The politics of the liminal and the liminoid in transfrontier conservation in southern Africa

By: Marja Spierenburg

Pages 81-88

Abstract: Nature conservation in South(ern) Africa was for a long time dominated by white males and funded by a white elite. In postapartheid South Africa, government and conservation organisations have attempted to transform the sector by promoting the idea that local (black) residents—often previously evicted and excluded from nature conservation areas—should benefit economically from them. Concurrently, the old elite needed to legitimise its place in post-apartheid South Africa. One attempt was by promoting Peace Parks—transfrontier conservation areas stretching across national borders. These were intended to become monuments to celebrate peace in the region and a more inclusive approach to nature conservation. Referring to Victor Turner's ideas about ritual transformations and the concept of liminality, one could argue that transfrontier parks constitute liminal spaces where international borders no longer matter and which serve the ritual transformation of formerly hostile regional relations as well as the transformation of nature conservation towards inclusion—celebrating new communitas. However, as Donald Weber (1995) argues, this interpretation ignores culture as a political manifestation. Taking the establishment of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park as an example, this article shows that celebrations to mark the various stages of the Park's implementation hid the struggles between the governments involved, and between (new and old) elites and local residents, about the meaning of the celebrations and the objectives of the Park. Ultimately, instead of a liminal space for the ritual transformation of nature conservation, the Park appeared to become a liminoid space for the old elite whose definitions of conservation still dominate.

Subjects: Nature conservation, community-based nature conservation (CBNRM), tourism, Victor Turner, liminal, liminoid