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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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.

My daughter owns a Wii and a DS Lite. The Wii was a gift from this past Christmas, the DS from two Santa seasons ago. When the Wii came into the house I imagined the death of DS – another sad, dejected, little hand-held device gathering dust on a forgotten section of a shelf somewhere after being marched off into that non-eulogized realm of pre-teen toy-extinction littered with the graves of a dozen or so Tamagotchis and a summer of WebKinz. But that, it turns out, was not to be. Santa’s efforts were not in vain.

Even with a stack of Super Mario, HSM II, Order of the Phoenix, Monster 4×4 and other games beckoning from above the TV and opposite the couch, she turns far more regularly to the realm of private play than the public play that has so obviously boosted Nintendo’s stocks thanks to the Wii. In fact, unless her uncles are over or her parents willing to rip ‘round the track a few times, these games typically play second fiddle to what must be the absolute champion of DS games for young girls: Harvest Moon. And if you doubt the supremacy of the DS over its newer cousin know that Santa delivered Harvest Moon this year for the Wii, the Game Cube version that lets girls be girl farmers and marry boy farmers. Still, she turns to being a boy.

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I don’t think playing as a boy has anything to do with alternate identification, the fantasy play place where romance novels, horror movies, etc. let us live out the lives of the other. I don’t even think it’s so much about Harvest Moon’s whole new world. I think the DS offers a user intimacy and experiences of the liminal that the Wii (because it’s so much about good, clean family fun) just doesn’t, at least at this point. It’s more isolating from the mundane world, more time stretching and, as a result, maybe more interesting. Maybe it’s a case of social gaming vs. un-social gaming. Maybe it’s because a lot of the Wii games just don’t quite cut it yet vs. other platforms. Or maybe it’s because, as her dad, I just think FIFA plays better on DS or, for that matter, Xbox.