The Uses and Meaning of Liminality

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This article introduces the work of Arnold van Gennep and traces the intellectual history of the concept of liminality. After considering the relative neglect to which van Gennep’s work was exposed until Victor Turner’s “discovery” of van Gennep in the 1960s, the article indicates different fields or topic areas in which the concept of liminality may be applied. In reference to liminal periods undergone by whole societies, the article raises a series of questions concerning possible problems in applying the concept of liminality in fields different from its origin, i.e. ritual passages in small-scale societies. Finally, the article raises a central question that was indeed posed by Max Weber, although with a different terminology, concerning the relationship between liminal experiences and the establishment of permanent structures, the “lasting effects” of answers produced in “extra-ordinary moments”: the extent to which “structure” or “order” is indeed always born in liminality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Political Anthropology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)5-28
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

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