Death Denied by Christianity?

June 1, 2009

Irene Steng’s ‘Death and Disposal of the People’s Singer and Philippe Aries’s ‘Death Denied’ has thrown up an interesting link for me.  Traditionally death has always been a social and public affair but society has since banished death, it is practically a taboo in the western world.  

Judging from Philippe’s paper, traditional Christian concepts of ‘cleanliness of body and purity of soul’ seems to have directly influenced later bourgeoise values of cleanliness, and arguably the resulting notion of dirtiness and indecency of death, from the late 19th century, which continues to this day through what Bourdieu terms as ‘habitus’ and traditional Christian funeral rituals.  

When you compare a secular ceremony such as Andre Hazes with a more formal church service such as Sir Edmund Hilliary’s that we watched last Friday, I like this idea even more.  The ritualised disposal of Hazes’s body in a more secularised fashion not only allowed for a more meaningful and personal occasion transcending all elements of society but according to Philippe, is in fact a more traditional and socially therapeutic way of public mourning.  In contrast with Sir Edmund Hilliary’s more formal church service,  Hazas’s commemoration was altogether a happier, more upbeat commemorative occasion shared by the communitas as opposed to a sombre, morbid affair governed by strict religious etiquette showing no signs of emotion.

Paradoxically, given Andre Hazas’s perceived ‘immoral’ behaviour and ‘impure, politically incorrect’ body, as far as I can see, he remained true to himself and to those who loved him in a more personal and less sanctimonious way.

Any feedback very welcome, I’m really intrerested in this 🙂


Ethnography of Wedding Seating Arrangements

May 24, 2009

Thankfully most modern weddings in western society don’t have such an elaborate wedding invitation proceedure as the Cypriots. I’m writing this because I’m fascinated with Vassoss Argyrou’s description on p.230 about how the family of the bride and groom distribute fresh bread as an official invitation followed by a second round of sprinkling rose water in guests hands and how relatives of the bride meanwhile get involved in organising the rest of the community to help. That’s so cool because I’ve never liked the taste of organic wholemeal paper covered with silver bells and calligraphy.

But anyway, I want to focus on the idea of ‘elaborate’ for one moment because most western modern day traditional weddings (that I’m aware of at least)  go through an extremely elaborate  seating arrangement proceedure instead.  In fact, the tangle of politics and social considerations for each table – who sits where with whom, how well they know each other, their social standing, children… is just the tip of a very slippery iceberg.  Not only this, seating arrangements can arguably crash through social boundaires and taboos surrounding class, gender and age in spectacular ways which clearly supports what Vassoss claims about weddings as fixing social boundaries between age groups and determining limitations and priviledges of each, as well as the relations between them.  

I think that the issues surrounding seating arrangements at a wedding therefore  fits well with Bordieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ and more interestingly, the potential for individual and group symbolic violence if the bride and groom get the seating plan wrong.  What a fantastic ethnography that would be….

Pain Tweaks Cultural Conscience

May 5, 2009

I really should be doing my essay right now but since I’m really Anzac’d out, I decided to read Alan Morinis’s paper instead.  In this, titled ‘Pain and the transformation of consciousness in ordeals of initiation’, Morinis describes pain as the most ideal physiological and psychological process in order to gain social acceptance and adult status in the community.  Van Gennep, Durkheim and Gluckman all see this treatment of the individual, carried out by former initiates and close kin, as a social function and pay little attention to the fact that the acts themselves are very painful ordeals.  

Morinis therefore explores what the real point may be of continuing to use this platform.  Morinis mentions four other roles within which pain plays but what becomes clear throughout this reading is his interest on the psychological aspect of pain and how pain and the enduring of it contributes to the success of a rite of passage in many ways.  I really like the way that Morinis sees this as a form of ‘sacrifice’, presenting a contradiction for the initiand between ‘autonomous self’ and acceptance into a ‘socially moulded society’ which must ultimately be overcome. I can connect with this and it makes a lot of sense in other rites of passage I have read which involve, to me, incredibly painful and potentially dangerous acts of mutilation. 

Personally, I would love to get into each and every initiand’s head before and after these rites of passage!  Judging from Morinis’s paper, not all initiands are overjoyed at the thought of stepping through this pain threshold into adulthood.  Maybe there are initiands who are privately protesting this traditional status change, seeing it as something they have no choice in but refusing is potentially worse.  Maybe their cultural background, as Morinis points out, sets them up psychologically for this rite in ways I can never fully appreciate, far away from the experience of being there. 

But ultimately Morinis’s idea of pain as being a ‘dual requirement’ of the rite of passage  – on the one hand – an effective psychological stimulus inducing a major turning point in the development of conscious – and on the other hand – forging a renewed cultural/social awareness upon the initiand (from a natural child to a cultural adult).  Although bodily mutilation to me seems highly illogical, Morinis has made me think about the effects on the conscience such pain barriers tweak within a socially supportive network.  So now I’m left wondering how this sort of rite of passage, in remodelling a person’s worldview for the sake of the communitas, could be translated to delinquent jeuveniles in the western society!  Surely forging a stronger sense of affiliation and status within kin and community is possible with some other less radical but psychologically challenging rite of passage would minimise tagging and car theft – village boot camps, yey…?!!  

So basically, investigating the concept of pain within a tribal rite of passage has been really enlightening as I had never, up to now, considered the act of voluntary cutting, hitting, stinging etc. any deeper than the social and functional.  I really enjoyed Morinis’s reading and if it weren’t for an essay I really need to finish, I would probably explore this one a whole lot further 🙂

Post Anzac: Assignment Ideas

April 27, 2009

Getting up at 5 in the morning was interesting !  I went to the Dawn Parade with an open mind which was an idea mentioned by another blogger last week.  There was just so much going on around me from children to soldiers standing with their families to veterans catching up with other veterans at the RSA for tea and rum!  I remember particularly the atmosphere at the cenotaph and it being being so brightly lit up against the darkness of the crowd – a place I often walk past during the day without even a second glance suddenly taking on a more significant/sacred dimension.  I also went to watch the War Memorial service at 10am which was different on so many levels and has given me so many more ideas to chew on from the role of religion to diplomatic/political liturgies etc.  But the symbolic/historic significance of the bugle playing “The Last Post” followed by the “Ode” at both ceremonies was by far the most interesting aspect for me.  It wasn’t something I had considered at all until I heard it at both ceremonies and realised that it symbolised all sorts of really diverse things both historically and culturally.  So here goes  for my next assignment…  I still think there is a place at ANZAC for a mention of the Merchant Navy’s role in both great wars, being that they weren’t all enlisted men or ships, but because of this, getting stats over WW1 will take more time than the due date of this essay will allow methinks.

Anzacs – Remember the Mechant Navy

April 20, 2009

I ended up chatting to a World War veteran from the Merchant Navy on Saturday evening (as you do..) and up until then I didn’t realise that NZ is one of the last remaining countries that still doesn’t recognise the vital work of, and lives lost in, the Merchant Navy during the 2nd World War. 

The Merchant Navy was a crucial link for shipping supplies for military forces and were constantly targeted by U-Boats as a result.  New Zealand Merchant Navy veterans are fighting for the same recognition and commemoration day as all the other countries, namely the 3rd September and I think they have a just cause. One of many news links I found expresses an important yet arguably forgotten part to the many sacrifices made during World War history.  To quote Churchill; “But for their courage and sacrifice these islands would have been starved into submission and the history of the world would be totally different.” Another disharmonious’ ritual lurking, so well expressed by Victor Turner (love him!) – but like all World War veterans, there’s not many of them left to fight this corner for recognition in NZ sadly. 

So here’s to the wonderful 70+ year old Merchant Navy veteran I befriended in the Green Parrot on Saturday night; I wished him well and left wondering why NZ hasn’t officially recognised these brave men and women yet.

Anzac Day Idea..

April 13, 2009

I was chatting with some friends last night and judging from what they were saying, the dawn parade is a commemoration involving the community including families remembering loved ones etc whereas the later service of commemoration is a more formal, possibly politically driven affair. Observing the crowds on both these ceremonies may pull out some useful contrasts to write about.. Anyone else got some ideas? Here’s a link to Anzac Day itinerary in Wellington.

Israeli PM swearing in ceremony

April 1, 2009

Thinking back to Tuesday’s lecture and how public rituals create political reality by demonstrating goals and aims to the general public, Netanyahu seems to be doing this in his PM swearing in speech I’ve just watched.  I now see him using this opportinity as a newly sworn in PM to reinforce political domination in the region as well re-kindling more of the same messages to Iran and to the rest of the world for not doing anything about Iran.  Perfect time when all eyes and public expections are upon him.

Hauka Hilarious!

April 1, 2009

Love this reading 🙂 I’m into ‘different’ rituals like the !kung tribal dance/whirling Dervishes etc and am very interested in the mystical side for another paper I’m doing. This is particularly interesting because of how this powerful vehicle of satire, under an altered state of conscience, evolved from an original Songhay dance as a way of retaining some cultural identity. The way is has transformed to target the European ‘way’ is also interesting but I wonder if this is being kept alive by the older generation.

De-baptism as a reversal of a Rite of Passage?

March 17, 2009

I found this de-baptism news item really fascinating following on from yesterday’s question about what happens in a situation where a rite of passage fails.  (Great question, yey!).  Most Rites of Passage I know of  involve older passengers who are fullly aware of its significance and participate accordingly.  What I see happening here is a post liminal stage based on an traditional christian symbolic ritual which just doesn’t pack the same punch in today’s more secular transcultural society.

Will our economy alter consumer behaviour?

March 10, 2009

I found this page with links to various debates on individual consumer behaviour and thought it may be quite interesting to share following Dennis Rook’s ‘Ritual Dimension of Ritual Behaviour’.  Although grooming habits are a focus by Erikson, I think we purchase all sort of other products for the similar reasons, ie, individual and interpersonal identity, expression and peer pressure which may be driven by negative, ambivalent and positive emotions etc etc.  But could today’s economy and the unravelling reality of a recession change these deeply personal choices?