EMERGENT THEMES OF OUR LEARNING COMMUNITY

Communitas

Victor Turner was a Scottish anthropologist of the mid to late 20th century whose work explored ritual process as a social process. He began his field work with the Ndembu people of what is today Zambia. His original thinking about ritual grew out of his interaction with the Ndembu, although he later expanded his ideas of ritual process to other indigenous cultures, modern and ancient, and to western industrialized culture as well.

Turner's most notable offerings in the field of anthropology revolve around his work on liminality and communitas, and these are crucial concepts that have profoundly informed us in our cohort process. Both concepts are imbedded in the Turner's exploration of the ritual process. Building on the work of the Dutch scholar Arnold van Gennep, Turner distinguished three phases of rites of passage: separation, liminality, and reincorporation. In the period of separation the initiate moves away from one's grounded familiar social reality into a state of liminality, a place on the margins, neither here, nor there, in Turner's words "betwixt and between."

"Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial" (Turner, 1969, p. 95). Turner emphasizes the transformational capacity of the liminal space. In the process of coming into contact with sacred and arcane understandings one's inmost nature is deeply changed. Following the initiating practices in the liminal space, the initiate returns back to the everyday world, but changed by the experience and living in the everyday world in a different way.

Arising out of liminal space is the phenomenon of "communitas," a key concept developed early on in his classic work The Ritual Process. According to Turner, communitas refers to a collective experience that becomes possible when a whole group of people cross a threshold and together enter liminal time and space, an in-between time that is neither past nor present, and a space that is neither here nor there. In this threshold space, they experience a bond, and it is not like any bond they may experience in their ordinary structured lives. Victor Turner, in Ritual Process, describes what is sought in communitas:

It is not effortless companionship that can arise between friends, coworkers, or professional coworkers any day. What they seek is a transformative experience that goes to the root of each person's being and finds in that root something profoundly communal and shared" (Turner, 1969, p. 138).

Communitas is not the same as community. Communitas is a process where no one is marginalized, because everyone is on the margin. It is a transitory period of transformation, which enables group members to return to their way of living in dramatically new ways. So communitas is not simply social interaction, it is not simply belonging to a group. Implied in communitas is a social and a soulful connection.

The idea communitas is closely related to Turner's concept of "anti-structure". Turner clarifies the ideas of liminal, communitas and anti-structure in this exerpt:

I have used the term "anti-structure,"... to describe both liminality and what I have called "communitas." I meant by it not a structural reversal... but the liberation of human capacities of cognition, affect, volition, creativity, etc., from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a sequence of social statuses (1982:44).

Turner goes on to emphasize the potentially transformative nature of this anti-structured space, for the individual, but also for society. There is creative capacity in this space. Turner sees those in a liminal phase as being a "kind of institutional capsule or pocket which contains the germ of future social developments, of societal change (1982:45)."

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