transformation


In his quest to locate contemporary manifestations of liminal performance, Victor Turner wrote about “retribalization as an attempt to restore the original matrix of ritual” (1984:25). Vague as to what constitutes ‘retribalization’, Turner seemed to be subtly mandating his readers to seek out those communities, organizations or tribes in their own immediate geographies whose activities or events were somehow distinguished from the more ritually impoverished mainstream of Western society.

Through investigating and, more importantly, participating in events which embody the multidimensionality of tribal ritual – speech, music, dance, art and so on – Turner suggested that the transformative experiences of our agrarian forebears could be rejoined and recovered by post-industrial citizens long separated from such creative activities by the division of labour and other changes in society. It is a suggestion he made throughout his writing, first appearing in The Ritual Process (1969), where he briefly mentioned the liminality of that event that will dawn or, rather, dusk on my immediate geography in about 32 hours: Halloween.

Notwithstanding his perpetual distinction between the liminal and liminoid, Turner believed that events such as Halloween had discovered “the cultural debris of some forgotten liminal ritual” (1979: 58) and somehow managed to excavate a connection to a numinosity thought lost to large-scale, complex societies.

32 hours from now, those of you planning to gear up, doll up, paint up and dress up for the first Halloween to hit a Friday night in a long time (and the fact that the week’s biggest party night coincides with the real date of Halloween makes staying up late and doing what you do all the more potentially transformative and/or numinous) should take this to heart. There are many semi-accessible liminal and/or liminoid (depending on how stodgey you are in defining their space) zones to get into these days. But, regardless of your age and the transformative numinosity you might want to be tapping into, there’s something special about that one night of the year that exists betwixt-and-between dusk and dawn, childhood and adulthood. So if you’re dressing up and planning to misbehave, make it count.

References

Turner, Victor. (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine.

Turner, Victor. (1979) Process, Performance and Pilgrimage: A Study of Comparative Symbology. Delhi: Concept Publishing

Turner, Victor (1984) “Liminality and the performative genres,” in John J. MacAloon (ed.) Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle: Rehearsals toward a Theory of Cultural Performance. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues Inc.

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The web world of charity, social enterprises and people-helping-people is its own growing global population ostensibly dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems through the intersections of social media, money, education, individuals, governments and big corporations. New on the scene and, perhaps, worthy of an award for site design – the simplicity of stacking & rolling text to a soundtrack beats most others in this field hands down – shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering that The Girl Effect is a Nike Foundation (with partners) project. I’m not sure how anthropologically sound the strategy behind the program is, although I’m all for backing young girls as the solution to solving issues far and wide. I am sure that the name, the text, the music, and the simplicity of the strategy will catch on and make The Girl Effect the social enterprise to watch in the year ahead.

Stunning, awesome, for no reason to do with the type of animation – maybe it’s the fluidity of movement – this reminds me of Miyazaki. You must watch this.

No photo to post, screen shot to rip or even a moshi moshi from this glimmer of innovation and peek into the sort of interaction and/or interface that might soon be – check her!

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If you’re in your mid to late 30s (or beyond) and were born and/or raised in North America, chances are you spent a good portion of your childhood in the Cleaver house. A la Beaver, you would come home from school every day and there would be Mom (even you didn’t think of her as June), waiting eagerly for your return, hoping you didn’t get your head stuck between fence posts, cookies in hand, greeting you at the front door. Once inside you’d find that Dad (no, not Ward) had come home early and was reading the newspaper in the living room. And, yes, he was still wearing his ‘slacks’.

That ‘times have changed’ is as much an acknowledgement of what is continually so as it is of my age (and what was on TV when I was a kid). One thing that’s changed is that fewer, if any, young kids actually watch Leave It To Beaver. I haven’t checked but, if the Hilarious House of Frightenstein is any indication, it must be airing on one of those retro channels. I might say that my own daughter, who spends much of her time growing up in the White House with Corey, at Hannah Montana’s place, and in the Tipton hotel with Zack & Cody, has yet to ‘discover’ the aesthetic pleasure of the black & white era. But the fact is that, unless she becomes something of a semi-academic film buff in her later years, I’m not sure that she or any of her contemporaries ever will. The momentum that pop culture has gathered in the recent years has new content rolling out so quickly that, like VCRs and land lines, I wonder if black & white has an obsolescence associated with it. (That typed as she runs around town with the Mayor collecting goodies in Wii Sims.)

Another thing that’s changed is June and Ward’s space – the house – and their time and place in it and outside of it. Few Junes are at home baking cookies after school. More Wards get RSS. And their kids? That’s where the real change is going down. Or, at least, where it is being most registered.

According to “Changes in American children’s time: 1981 – 1997,” a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research survey from a decade ago, time and place is not what it once was. Among the findings in that 16-year period, the study noted a 33% drop in family dinners, a reduction in kids’ free time by almost 12 hours per week (9 of them being play time which, if you know anything, is more valuable than an entire public school career’s worth of math class), a reduction of 50% in their unstructured outdoor activities (add that the math too), a doubling of structured sports activities to 5.5 hours per week, an increase in non-sporty kids hanging around their siblings’ sidelines, and a 50% increase in homework.

There’s a chance that the homework stat has changed, considering how study after study has shown that its anxiety-inducing effects on young students and their families is totally counterproductive to a positive school experience. Others might have too. I don’t know. I do know that there are similar time & space altering forces at work on the parents of those kids and, for that matter, on working non-parents. Anyone who doubts that based on their own corner-of-the-world experience need only consider the extent to which we, as actors in pop culture, attempt to control that time & space by watching others renovate their homes, design the perfect Greco-Roman bathroom, reorganize their closets, cook the perfect 5-minute meal and, if work happens to cut into the TV schedule of those who still watch it, TiVo it all or rip torrents for the whole week.

To get to my point: the time & space of the home has changed over the years. The first serious ‘modern’ morphing occurred with major labor shifts in the 1850s and, once again, with women entering the WW2 workforce. In each instance there was an historical response to these social changes in household performances of time and space through memory: a boom in photography, a ‘focus’ on youth photography, an interest in lineage, a growing appreciation for the home as a nest, a refuge, a place of identity re-gathering.

My question is, How will digital shifts in recent years transform our sense of the home or household? I’ll frame that in a few of ‘influences’ to consider and hope for comments.

1. Digital photography
Family/travel/etc. photos used to be stored in an heirloom box, a drawer or up on a wall in a frame. Today, most of them are on the family desktop, an iPod etc. ‘Space’ has become more digital. What does this say to how we store memories? The meaning of memory? The spatial anchoring of identity in the past? And the place it occupies in our present life spaces?

2. Web
Photos/postcards/articles/etc. used to be stored next to the prints or in scrapbooks. Now, interests, mementos and memories sit in a folder next to the digi pics. We have access to other people’s interests, mementos and memories through Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, geotagging etc. Is our sense of family growing? Becoming less physically bounded as it did when trains and steam ships empowered us to visit distant relatives? Or is the only thing growing our apetite for vicarious living?

3. Online shopping
Like the photos that generations past used for building cozy nests to raise their chicks in family trees reaching high into a known and secure past, the worms that are being plucked today are not necessarily from dewy lawns flown to but shipped without the need for flight. Like the Web and, to some extent, TV and radio before it, how will having access to more of ‘the world’ transform how we build the household nest in years to come?

Social networks
4. Family trees have been big business for years. Just check the Mormon Church’s website, Henry Louis Gates’ African American lives, and the phenomenon’s first big boom in the Victorian area. Now, are networks are about friends (Facebook), colleagues (LinkedIn) and such. Is inviting those who are far from us into the time & space of our homes (and being invited into theirs) doing something?

In show-dropping the Cleavers and worrying that I may never be able to tell my daughter to stop being such an Eddie Haskel (cause I know she may never get that reference), I guess my one big question is this:

If memory has been what John R. Gillis (in “Our Imagined Families: The Myths and Rituals We Live By”) has called “the dominant muse of our time,” will – and, if so, how and as what – will the digital space usher in as the next dominant muse?

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We’re living in a liminal time. As anyone familiar with that most numinous of concepts introduced by Arnold VanGennep and later refined by Victor Turner knows, time, when liminalized, is neither now nor then, here nor there. That’s exciting because, in the spirit of Turner, it suggests we’re living in a time that is potentially hugely transformative. Welcome to the betwixt-and-between!

No longer one to get 100% caught up in the frenzy of the moment, I’ll be the first anti-pundit to say that other times have been transformative. But the current and emerging intersections between Web 2.0, Design 3.0 and the social, political, environmental, corporate, consumer and other worlds they’re out to tweak are changing the game in a way that could make vinyl records, film and TV appear as blips on the cultural radar screen.

If you followed Idris Mootee’s Advanced Branding Master Class held this past summer via his blog, you’ll know I’m down with the idea (and practice) of co-design and transformation. In response to one of Idris’ questions concerning the future of ‘brand’, I suggested brand(s) could/should enter a performative phase.
Brand as performance, I wrote, would

– be a celebration of cultures and meanings made as much (if not more) by consumers as by boardrooms

– be more collaborative, more about opening participatory folds of design, packaging, retail, advertising, marketing etc within and between (how consumers actually consume) brands

– generate symbolic, ritual power through play and display by providing a stage for social dramas: scenes, parties or spontaneous mobs that – on streets or online – forge greater alliances, extend word-of-mouth through the tribe, make meaning through co-participation and can be fun

– use that power to mobilize corporate and consumer communities for social transformation; above donations or sponsorships, beyond Just Do It and Be All That You Can Be and with accountability becoming more central to success than authenticity, take a leadership role in championing causes and affecting them.

I know many in the design/web world share a similar thrill for what’s just over the precipice, especially all you corporate ethnographer’s trapped in the anti-liminal zone of ‘actionability’. So, just in case you missed some recently posted guides to help you on your way towards transformation (can we add transcendence to that?), a few candles lighting the way….

The 10th anniversary conference on Participatory Design: Experiences and Challenges takes place from September 30 to October 4 in Bloomington, Indiana. This meeting of minds – known as Participatory Design (add PDs to your EAs, IAs, BDs, PhDs, CEOs and such) – represents “a diverse collection of principles and practices aimed at making technologies, tools, environments, businesses, and social institutions more responsive to human needs. A central tenet of PD is the direct involvement of people in the co-design of things and technologies they use.” Check their site for info about key speakers Natalie Jeremijenko and Finn Kensing, get your bosses to pay for the trip, and consider their core questions before hopping on the plane: What are the important trends, phenomena, developments, and views on participation and design etc., which in so many different ways challenge our traditions, our experiences and/or the current ‘wisdom’ within the field?

And then there’s NextDesign, the folks behind exciting projects, including a new GoogleGroup called Transforming Transformation. Co-founder GK VanPatter recently posted a lengthy discussion there in which he wrote, “As part of Design 3.0 we are no longer just interested in understanding users (outbound awareness). We are also interested in understanding the project team and even the client team (inbound awareness) as part of the transformation equation.” Wow! As part of their transformation equation, NextDesign is currently seeking non-profit organizations who have complex organizational challenges and seek FREE confidential strategic innovation help” from their Complexity Navigation students. Check out their site to learn more.