Liminoid – Blast Theory day 7

Turner makes the liminoid distinction in From Ritual To Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play. He does this to differentiate between similar types of activity that occur in pre-industrial and industrial societies. There are activities in modern, global, industrialised society that appear to be very similar to pre-industrial ritual. Religious events, music festivals, theatre, play and games all fit into this category. They tend to follow the same anti-structure that ritual follows.

However, apart from many of the other differences, Turner charts two main differences. The first is that all these activities don’t necessarily result in social state change, they may, but most often things go back to normal, no matter what happened during the liminoid experience. The other, and I think key difference that all this hinges on is the aspect of choice. For pre-industrial societies the rituals are necessary, there is no choice in the matter, the individuals and society must go through them, they have no choice. And on most counts they are not nice experiences for either the participants and/or the social group around them. In one example of a circumcision/manhood ritual, adolescents are excluded from the tribe and must resort to stealing food to survive. If they are caught they are beaten. They are outside society, and outside the laws and so can and must do this successfully to survive. They have no choice in this, and those they steal from also have no choice. It is not a pleasant experience for either side.

Contrast that with most street games and the aspect of choice becomes clear. Players of these games choose to take part in what are generally pleasant and nice experiences. If they were more challenging they would be unlikely to come back for more. And quite contrary to the much discussed aspect of players/public not know who is in or out of the game, generally these games are quite clear about that and involve a high level of awareness and choice from non-players. From experience it is generally quite difficult to get passersby engaged (though this has a lot to do with locations) in games, they may not know it is a game, but they do know it is something they don’t want to be involved in. These games are nice, and unless they are nice to the public they don’t get involved.

Rather than a clear binary, there is more of a continuum from liminal to liminoid. For example there can be obvious peer factors in ensuring that people take part in what could be seen liminoid activities. This is not to say that street, or pervasive, games can’t be more liminal. In fact one of the things that really interests me about some of Blast Theory’s work is in the aspect of choice, and the sometimes uncomfortable experiences that choice, or lack of it can bring. Pieces such as Ulrike and Eamon Compliant and Kidnap really play with choice and have produced distinctly uncomfortable experiences. There is plenty of room for critical engagement between choice and liminoid experiences.

Blast Theory residency day 2

For this residency project I’ll be using the work of Victor Turner. There are three broad, interrelated and interconnected aspects of his theory of Ritual and Liminality that I’m interested in.

  1. The Ritual Process: The three part, pre-liminal, liminal, post-liminal, cycle of ritual experience
  2. Communitas: The feeling of togetherness and solidarity during a ritual activity
  3. Liminal vs Liminoid: The relationship between necessary rituals in pre-industrial societies and elective liminal-like activities in industrialised society

These are ordered as the chronologically appeared, but have to be taken together as a way to analyse pervasive games. The three part ritual process itself originates with the french, formalist ethnographer and folklorist Arnold Van Gennep. Turner doesn’t really go out of his way to differentiate his use of the three part process from Van Gennep, and seems to use it straight out of Rites of Passage (1909). In one of his earlier books, The Ritual Process (1969), Turner describes his concept of Communitas, based on his observations of the Ndembu and analysis of other ethnographers work. Over a decade later, in From Ritual To Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (1982), he describes the liminal/liminoid distinction as he becomes more interested in performance studies and the developed world.