Liminality

I first came across the term liminality as a young anthropology student studying Victor Turner and ritual. Liminality is the sense of being between two states or cultural identities. It can be thought of as being a transitional state. I read an article by Bob Trubshaw recently that talked about liminality in terms of borders. Humans set up borders whether they are physical borders between one place and another, cultural borders between being a child and an adult, temporal borders between one time period and another.

A classic anthropological example is the rituals surrounding boys in certain tribal cultures moving from boyhood to manhood. In this case, the boys are taken away from their mothers and the community and isolated in a special place. They are put through a series of trials and after completing these they are reintroduced to the community, often being given different names. The liminality in this case is the period that the boys spend in their ritual setting where they are neither boys nor men. Their between two social categories.

An example more familiar to Westerners is the traditional wedding where the couple go through a series of rituals leading up to the marriage ceremony. Once the ceremony is complete the couple leave for a honeymoon where they are away from their regular group of friends and relatives. Once the honeymoon is over, the couple returns where they are recognized as having entered a new social category.

So, I mentioned in the last blog that I was feeling a sense of liminality. I’ve been trying to sort this out – where in the traditional structure associated with liminality I am. After all, I’m still at work, still teaching everyday, still working on developing curriculum, still holding meetings with parents. So where am I and why do I have this sense of liminality. And, an added question, does this relate to yesterday’s comments on “short-timers disease?”

Well, despite still being in place and carrying out my regular duties, I’m recognized by myself and by others as being different from the other teachers in my school because I’ve already notified everyone that I’m leaving and my contract is running out at a time when my colleagues have all renewed theirs. And yet, at the same time, I haven’t reached the stage known as retirement – one of those sociocultural boundaries that we set up to define a person’s life in a culture and community.

Not having my Turner around (the ex-husband of an ex-wife has it), I googled the term and found that the Wikipedia article mentioned that liminality is “…characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.”

Good, so now that I’ve labeled the sense of liminality and identified and matched some of the characteristics to some of the feelings, dreams, comments and insights that have been invading my life over the past month, I can get on to seeing what I’m going to do with this new understanding.

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~ by drbrucepk on March 11, 2008.

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