Victor Turner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Victor Witter Turner (May 28, 1920December 18, 1983) was a cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage. His work, along with that of Clifford Geertz and others, is often referred to as symbolic and interpretive anthropology.


[edit] Biography and research interests

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Turner initially studied poetry and classics at the University College London, but during World War II his interest in anthropology was sparked and he pursued graduate studies in anthropology at Manchester University. Turner's interest in 'social drama' has self-acknowledged roots in the precedent of Kenneth Burke and Erving Goffman.

During the period of 1950-1954, Turner studied the Ndembu tribe in central Africa with his wife Edith Turner. While observing the Ndembu, Turner became intrigued by ritual and rites of passage. He completed his PhD in 1955. Like many of the Manchester Anthropologists of his time, he also became concerned with conflict, and created the new concept of social drama in order to account for the symbolism of conflict and crisis resolution among Ndembu villagers. Turner spent his career exploring rituals. As a professor at the University of Chicago, Turner began to apply his study of rituals and rites of passage to world religions and the lives of religious heroes.

Turner gained notoriety by exploring Arnold van Gennep’s threefold structure of rites of passage and expanding theories on the liminal phase. Van Gennep's structure consisted of a pre-liminal phase (separation), a liminal phase (transition), and a post-liminal phase (reincorporation). Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were "betwixt and between": they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society. Liminality is a limbo, an ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity, and communitas. Communitas is defined as an unstructured community where all members are equal.

Turner was also a committed ethnographer who constantly mused about his craft in his books and articles. Eclectic in his use of ideas borrowed from other theorists, he was rigorous in demanding that the ideas he developed illuminate ethnographic data; a theorist for theory's sake he was not. A powerful example of his attitudes can be found in the opening paragraph of the essay “Social Dramas and Ritual Metaphors” in Victor Turner (1974) Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. There he writes,

In moving from experience of social life to conceptualization and intellectual history, I follow the path of anthropologists almost everywhere. Although we take theories into the field with us, these become relevant only if and when they illuminate social reality. Moreover, we tend to find very frequently that it is not a theorist’s whole system which so illuminates, but his scattered ideas, his flashes of insight taken out of systemic context and applied to scattered data. Such ideas have a virtue of their own and may generate new hypotheses. They even show how scattered facts may be systematically connected! Randomly distributed through some monstrous logical system, they resemble nourishing raisins in a cellular mass of inedible dough. The intuitions, not the tissue of logic connecting them, are what tend to survive in the field experience.

Turner's work on ritual has stood as one of the most influential theories in anthropology during the twentieth century; but recently this "Turnerian Paradigm" has been challenged. With reference to his concept of communitas, John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow's (1991) work Contesting the Sacred directly opposes it (briefly, as idealised); and more recently a compilation of essays on pilgrimage edited by John Eade & Simon Coleman, Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion (2004) have suggested that the work has rendered pilgrimage neglected as an area of anthropological study, due to Turner's assertion that pilgrimage was, by its liminal nature, extraordinary and not part of daily life (and therefore not a part of the make up of everyday society).

Performance Studies scholar Richard Schechner drew from Turner's theories on social drama and liminality, and the two worked collaboratively until his death. Turner's work has resurfaced in recent years (90's - 00's) among a variety of disciplines, proving to be an important part of the social sciences.

Edith Turner, Victor Turner's wife, has also both built upon and developed innovative ideas that complement notions of liminality, communitas, and the ritual process. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Virginia and the editor of the journal Anthropology and Humanism.

[edit] Books

  • The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (1967), Cornell University Press 1970 paperback: ISBN 0-8014-9101-0
  • Schism and Continuity in an African Society (1968), Manchester University Press
  • The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (1969), Aldine Transaction 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-202-01190-9
  • Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (1974), Cornell University Press 1975 paperback: ISBN 0-8014-9151-7
  • Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (1978), Edith L. B. Turner (coauthor), Columbia University Press 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-231-04287-6
  • From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (1982), PAJ Publications paperback: ISBN 0-933826-17-6
  • Liminality, Kabbalah, and the Media (1985), Academic Press
  • The Anthropology of Performance (1986), PAJ Publications paperback: ISBN 1-55554-001-5
  • The Anthropology of Experience (1986), University of Illinois Press 2001 paperback: ISBN 0-252-01249-6

[edit] Books About Turner

Graham St John (ed.) 2008. Victor Turner and Contemporary Cultural Performance. New York: Berghahn. ISBN 1845454626.

[edit] External links

Personal tools