The Ritual Process
Structure and Anti-structureBook - 2007
In The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, Victor Turner examines rituals of the Ndembu in Zambia and develops his now-famous concept of "Communitas." He characterizes it as an absolute inter-human relation beyond any form of structure. The Ritual Process has acquired the status of a small classic since these lectures were first published in 1969. Turner demonstrates how the analysis of ritual behavior and symbolism may be used as a key to understanding social structure and processes. He extends Van Gennep's notion of the "liminal phase" of rites of passage to a more general level, and applies it to gain understanding of a wide range of social phenomena. Once thought to be the "vestigial" organs of social conservatism, rituals are now seen as arenas in which social change may emerge and be absorbed into social practice. As Roger Abrahams writes in his foreword to the revised edition: "Turner argued from specific field data. His special eloquence resided in his ability to lay open a sub-Saharan African system of belief and practice in terms that took the reader beyond the exotic features of the group among whom he carried out his fieldwork, translating his experience into the terms of contemporary Western perceptions. Reflecting Turner's range of intellectual interests, the book emerged as exceptional and eccentric in many ways: yet it achieved its place within the intellectual world because it so successfully synthesized continental theory with the practices of ethnographic reports." The American Anthropologist called Turner's book "ingenious and erudite, rich in highly stimulating ideas."
Victor Turner (1920-1983) was a research officer at the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Zambia, where he began what was to be a lifelong study of Ndembu village life, ritual, and symbolism. He taught at the University of Manchester from 1955 to 1963, when he moved to the United States. Turner served as professor of anthropology at Cornell University, 1964-1968. From 1968 to 1977, he was professor of anthropology and social thought at the University of Chicago, and then until the time of his death he was William R. Kenan Professor of Anthropology and Religion at the University of Virginia.
Roger Abrahams recently retired as director of the Center for Folklore and Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.