Laryngitis=Typed Class Notes Introducing Victor Turner

I feel pretty good, but have no voice whatsoever.  So, since I have four and a half hours of class to teach today, I’ve spent the morning typing out my introduction to Victor Turner for my class on Ritual.  We’ve spent most of the first three weeks discussing Durkheim’s Elementary Forms and van Gennep’s Rites of Passage, but the students have not been given formal introductions to Marx or Weber in this class (though they’ve likely encountered them elsewhere).

The reason I’m really posting this here, though, is that I’d like to submit these notes to the collective wisdom of both of my readers.  Anything in here you’d care to quibble about?  Let me know!

RITUAL – Introducing Victor Turner
Erik W. Davis

In many ways, Turner sets the stage for contemporary interventions in the anthropological theory and study of ritual. He combines in his person and scholarship a lot of the concerns from conflicting and previously unassociated theoretical approaches: Marxism, Durkheim, and Van Gennep.

Durkheim and His Competitor Trains of Thought

Recall that Durkheim is considered one of the three major founders of Social thought (inclusive of both Anthropology and Sociology), along with Karl Marx and Max Weber. Each of these founders has a distinctive approach to key problems: the nature of the social division of labor, the relationship of economic and social organization to ideology and religion, ‘modernity,’ and the role of institutions in social life.

Each of them were confronted by an apparently radically novel social situation – capitalism – which seemed to break definitively from all previous forms of traditional society. It is difficult to overemphasize the extent to which all three of these thinkers, regardless of their differences, saw the contemporary modern period as a period of profound social flux and change. All of them also tied these changes to capitalism, the new division of labor in society into classes, and the role of religion. Summarizing any of these individual’s thought does violence to their subtlety. However, schematically, we can characterize them in the following ways:

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Village Life is Feminine, But the Socius is Masculine – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Seen from the village, life is feminine; one could even say that society is feminine–but it is precisely because it is only part of an encompassing whole from which meaning emanates, and this whole is masculine. If human were immortal, perhaps society could be confounded with the cosmos. Since death exists, it is necessary for society to be linked to something that is outside itself–and that it be linked socially to this exterior. Here is where men enter, charged with two functions that are their exclusive province: shamanism and warfare. In the interior of the socius, male authority can only be based on an association with women: the leader of an extended family controls daughters and gardens, feminine things he obtained through his married status. On the other hand, the power of magic and the force of the warrior exist ‘independently’ of women; they express a movement outwards from the socius, required because it is necessary to administer (in both senses of the term) death. Finally, negated or disguised in its own domain–the internal elaboration of the social fabric–affinity will be used to domesticate this founding bond, the bond with death and exteriority.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, From the enemy’s point of view. Humanity and divinity in an Amazonian Society., 190-191