Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period”

In the manner of sociologists and anthropologists, Victor Turner is investigating structures of human behavior by analyzing the practices and rituals of “simpler” societies.  In “Betwixt and Between,” he is investigating rites of passage, the cultural practices surrounding the movement from one state (any type of stable or recurrent condition that is culturally recognized (94)) to another. This transition includes separation, margin, and aggregation. Most of his attention is focused on the marginal, or liminal, period where, he notes, many standard social markers, including sex distinctions, do not apply (97). In addition, during the liminal period for the culture he studies, the neophyte is taught what Turner refers to as the sacra, the cosmology and mythical history of the people (103). This teaching of the sacra involves 1) the reduction of culture into recognized components, often through exaggeration of the integral aspects of culture or the body, 2) the recombination of those components in monstrous patterns or shapes, which further draws attention to the various components now removed from their usual context, and 3) the recombination of components in ways that fit the new state and status of the neophyte (106).

In Turner’s description, the liminal person is in transition from one culturally recognized state to another, and this transitional period helps to prepare them for assuming the responsibilities of the upcoming state. It is striking that this very particular account of transition rituals has been expanded so broadly in cultural theory and has been extended to include persons are perpetually “liminal” — always in transition between two states but never able to enter the next or return to the previous.