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Symbolic or Interpretive Anthropology 1960s –1970s general reevaluation of cultural anthropology as a scientific enterprise  From function to meaning.

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Presentation on theme: "Symbolic or Interpretive Anthropology 1960s –1970s general reevaluation of cultural anthropology as a scientific enterprise  From function to meaning."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Symbolic or Interpretive Anthropology 1960s –1970s general reevaluation of cultural anthropology as a scientific enterprise  From function to meaning  away from materialist theories towards idealist theories  shift toward issues of culture and interpretation and away from grand theories  increased emphasis on the way in which individual actions creatively shape culture  Greater emphasis on meaning in definitions of culture

3 Symbolic anthropology: not a tightly organized or clearly bounded ‘school’... a loosely-conceived ‘project’ of a variety of anthropologists of varied intellectual antecedents who see the decoding of public symbols as being the key activity of anthropological analysis... three main theoretical sources: Durkheimian sociology Sapir and emic theory psychoanalytic theory (Freud, Jung, Róheim, Betelheim)

4 Raymond FirthMeyer Fortes Victor TurnerMary Douglas Sherry B. OrtnerMonica Wilson Gregory BatesonGilbert Lewis Barbara BabcockPaul Rabinow Renato RosaldoBarbara Meyerhoff Terence S. TurnerMilton Singer Maurice BlochRobert A. Paul Marilyn Strathern James Fernandez SYMBOLIC ANTHROPOLOGISTS

5 Since symbolic anthropology is not an organized “school”, there are no hard-and-fast dogmas or principles Most “symbolicists” would however agree on these two points:  culture is, fundamentally, a symbolic system and so analysis of cultural symbols provides the natural point of entrée into a cultural universe  If culture is symbolic then it follows that it is used to create and convey meanings since that is the purpose of symbols. If meanings are the end products of culture then understanding culture requires understanding the meanings of its creators and users

6 “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take cultures to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning”. (Geertz 1973:5)

7 Victor Turner  Scottish social anthropologist, 1920–1983  student of Max Gluckman at Manchester  fieldwork among the Ndembu of Zambia  early work in conflict structuralism — Schism and continuity in an African society [1957]...  later work in pilgrimage theory, “experiential anthropology”, and performance theory  but central career interest = symbolic anthropology

8 The forest of symbols* (1967) The drums of affliction (1968) Chihamba: the white spirit (1969) The ritual process: structure and anti-structure (1969) Dramas, fields, and metaphors: symbolic action in human society (1975) Process, performance, and pilgrimage: a study in comparative symbology (1979) Blazing the trail: way marks in the exploration of symbols (with Edith Turner) (1992) * collected early papers, including “Symbols in Ndembu ritual” [reading for this course] VICTOR TURNER KEY MONOGRAPHS IN SYMBOLIC ANTHROPOLOGY

9 ZIMBABWE MOZAMBIQUE NAMIBIA ANGOLA CONGO-KINSHASA MA- LAWI TANZANIA NDEMBU

10 “MATRILINEAL BELT”

11 CENTRAL BANTU (WEST) MONGO LUBA NORTHWESTERN BANTU EQUATORIAL BANTU SOUTH- WESTERN BANTU MIDDLE ZAMBEZI BANTU

12 typical society of the “Matrilineal Belt”: matrilineal descent virilocal postmarital residence shifting cultivation on poor savanna land impermanent villages: new villages continually reforming ambitious headmen seek to attract villagers away from their present headmen (“big man” political process) individual continually being pulled in opposing directions by conflicting matrilineal loyalties and ties based on Fa-So relationship lots of ritual Lots NDEMBU

13 Social dramas  In Schism and Continuity in African Society (1957) Based on his fieldwork among the Ndembu  Social dramas were recurrent units of social life  exist as a result of the conflict that is inherent in societies.  social dramas have "four main phases of public action, accessible to observation" breach, crisis, redressive action, and reintegration.

14  The first phase is "signalized by the public, overt breach or deliberate nonfulfillment of some crucial norm regulating the intercourse of the parties" (ibid.).  Once a breach occurs "a phase of mounting crisis supervenes" in which the breach widens and extends the separation between the parties.  The crisis stage has "liminal characteristics, since it is a threshold between more or less stable phases of the social process" (Turner, 1974:39).  The third phase of redressive action occurs to limit the spread of the crisis with "certain adjustive and redressive mechanisms Social dramas

15  The redressive phase is the most liminal because it is in the middle of the crisis and the resolution.  It is in this phase that the liminal ritual may be enacted to resolve the crisis and provide an opportunity for the final phase of reintegration to occur.  The reintegration phase involves the resolution of the conflict by reintegrating the disturbed group into society or by the "social recognition and legitimization of irreparable schism between the contesting parties"  this four-phase model fits into van Gennep's phases of rites of passage.  Breach and crisis correspond to van Gennep's separation phase, redress aligns with the transition phase of rites of passage and reintegration represents van Gennep's incorporation phase

16 Arnold van Gennep

17 MUKANDA Ndembu circumcisers with knives Photos from Victor Turner: “Mukanda: the rite of circum- cision.” In: The Forest of Symbols

18 Gate to mukanda bush. Childhood clothes left on gate

19 Novices daubed with clay

20 LEFT: hut where novices sleep in the mukanda bush BELOW: iron pot in which the novices’ porridge is cooked

21 Novices receiving instruction from elders

22 Masked figure (Chizaluki) representing the authority of the ancestors

23 Last day of mukanda : initiates don new clothes and dance in public for first time as men

24 RITUAL SYMBOLS Turner not concerned with all possible symbolism. All social groups have some symbolism, down to couples and dyads. Turner is mainly concerned with ‘cultural’ symbols or (in his term) ‘ritual’ symbols Ritual symbols = a small number of objects which have more or less generally shared meanings within a community of interpretation (‘culture’) Milk Tree for Ndembu Cross for Christians Norwegian flag for Norwegians wedding garland for Greeks

25 PROPERTIES OF DOMINANT RITUAL SYMBOLS 1.CONDENSATION: Many things & actions are represented in a single iconic formation “Non-literate people have every incentive to economize on their use of information storing messages. Since all knowledge must be incorporated in the stories and rituals which are familiar to the living generation, it is of immense advantage if the same verbal categories, with their corresponding objects, can be used for multiple purposes.” Edmund Leach, “Ritualization in Man, in relation to conceptual and social development.” Royal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions. Series B. 251:

26 PROPERTIES OF DOMINANT RITUAL SYMBOLS 2.UNIFICATION: Many disparate significata are interconnected & unified by virtue of the common possession of certain analogous qualities analogy = the mechanism whereby many significata are able to be condensed in one dominant symbol

27 PROPERTIES OF DOMINANT RITUAL SYMBOLS 3.POLARIZATION: The symbol typically possesses two distinct poles of meaning, one normative (moral rules of society) and the other sensory (natural and physiological process) All that is quintessentially “Ndembu” is transmitted from mother to child, and so the dominant symbol of cohesion and continuity is symbolized by milk and the female breast The sensory pole is ‘gross’ and may be expected to arouse emotions (breast, penis, blood, semen, tears)

28 PROPERTIES OF DOMINANT RITUAL SYMBOLS Polarization = the linkage between the conscious or ideological aspects of symbols and the emotional aspects... e.g. why certain acts (profanation, incest, shedding of blood) instantly trigger emotional responses This linkage is clearly a learned response (behavior) TURNER: criticizes Sapir & psychoanalytically oriented writers for ignoring the ideological pole in favor of the emotional

29 PROPERTIES OF DOMINANT RITUAL SYMBOLS 4. POLYVALENCE — Dominant symbols do not just have one meaning (A = B) but are invariably ‘polyvalent’ or ‘polysemic’, and link into many domains of the culture and at a variety of levels

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31 DECODING RITUAL SYMBOLS

32 external form and observable characteristics interpretations of ritual specialists & lay persons significant contexts worked out by the anthropologist Ritual symbols can be decoded by triangulating between three main bodies of information:

33 interpretations of ritual specialists & lay persons significant contexts worked out by the anthropologist e.g. dominant symbol used in girls’ puberty rite, the latex exuded by a particular tree = milk = fertility = mo- therhood = the continuity of lineages in a matrilin- eal society = the unity & equality of all Ndembu Ritual symbols can be decoded by triangulating between three main bodies of information: ‘SIGNIFICATA’ operational meaning external form and observable characteristics exegetical Positional

34 ARROW: Diplorrhyncus condylocarpon, the Milk Tree

35 A `milk tree' growing in the compound of a Senior Chief in southern Zambia. Regarded as feminine by the inhabitants of the compound, the milk tree twines as a palpable dependent on its deciduous `masculine' host. Many Bantu peoples strongly associated this tree with womanhood because of the thick white, milk-like sap which the live wood exudes when cut. the blood-red sap of the so-called `

36 A fresh cut in the milk tree showing the milky white sap that gives the tree its common name

37 A fresh, bright scarlet cut on a `blood tree' in Kangaba, Mali marked that wood as masculine

38 interpretations of ritual specialists & lay persons significant contexts worked out by the anthropologist Ritual symbols can be decoded by triangulating between three main bodies of information: Get the “official” and the lay perspective: document any possible layering of meanings, from exoteric to esoteric operational meaning external form and observable characteristics exegetical Positional

39 interpretations of ritual specialists & lay persons significant contexts worked out by the anthropologist Ritual symbols can be decoded by triangulating between three main bodies of information: in some specific ritual contexts, Milk Tree = unity of women the novice herself loss of child by mother operational meaning external form and observable characteristics exegetical Positional

40 interpretations of ritual specialists & lay persons significant contexts worked out by the anthropologist classic contrast between what people say and what they do — e.g., despite the ide- ology of Ndembu unity, actually the Milk Ritual symbols can be decoded by triangulating between three main bodies of information: Tree implies certain cleavages in Ndembu society in some specific ritual contexts, Milk Tree = unity of women the novice herself loss of child by mother operational meaning external form and observable characteristics exegetical Positional

41 ...in the Nkang’a ritual, each person or group in successive contexts, sees the milk tree only as representing her or their own specific interests and values at those times. However the anthropologist, who has previously made a structural analysis of Ndembu society, isolating its organizational principles, and distinguishing its groups and relationships, has no particular bias and can observe the real interconnection and conflict between groups and persons. What is meaningless for an actor playing a specific role may well be highly significant for an observer and analyst of the total system. On these grounds, therefore, I consider it legitimate to include within the total meaning of a dominant ritual symbol, aspects of behavior associated with it which the actors themselves are unable to interpret, and indeed of which they may be unaware... Victor Turner, “Symbols in Ndembu ritual” Erockson & Murphy 2001: 364

42 By including esoteric meanings, Turner departs from earlier theorists of symbolism, for whom only the exoteric meanings (shared by everyone) were truly “public symbolism” (Nadel, Wilson) But esoteric meanings are a significant part of most knowledge systems... are particularly clear in Central African initiation systems... at various points in initiation ceremony, the novice is presented symbolically encoded information... memorized by rote — much of the symbolism is undisclosed & will never be formally disclosed

43 however even by the end of the bush school, some novices will have figured out by context, or by recognizing an image presented earlier in a song learnt later those who show a talent for grasping the more elusive meanings become the officiating priests, witchdoctors, and bush school instructors of future generations thus the populace sorts itself out in various strata of intellectual and/or spiritual “depth”  most people content to live in a universe of signs and symbols whose meanings are known to others, but not them  a self-selected few become guardians of the society’s symbolic resources

44 OTHER KEY CONCEPTS IN TURNER’S APPROACH TO RITUAL SYMBOLISM 1.liminality — extensive elaboration of van Gennep’s notion of liminality in rites of passage 2.communitas & structure — ‘structure’ inherently hierarchical & liminality inherently communal/egalitarian

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