the body as a social text

•June 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I was so fascinated by the idea that the death of Andre Hazes (in Irene Steng’s article “Death and Disposal of the People’s Singer”) represented a kind of discourse on the body. Stengs illustrates that many of his fans identified with the overweight, unhealthy, sweating Hazes as a sort of counter-protest to the boldily ideals of celebrities who are revered for their beauty and body types. This identification is reflected in the mimesis or full imitation of Andre Hazes by fans at his funeral.

The transgressions Andre Hazes made in defying the ideals of the healthy lifestyle, alongside his personal background, lent to his acceptance or rejection depending on habitus. In turn, people brought their own habitus to bear upon the interpretation of his talents, his life and the event of his public funeral.

The funeral itself was remarkable in how it varied from the traditional structuring of funeral rites. With the funeral taking place inside a football arena, many had no set code of expected behaviour to guide them through. Although the crowd fell silent once Hazes’ coffin was carried from the hearse onto the pithch, this was quickly broken by cheering, singing, and the chanting of football songs. The body itself went through a number of disposals, most interestingly, through a series of rocket launches bearing Andre Hazes’ ashes from diffrent locations, including the stadium.

I’m really interested in the theme of public investment in the lives and deaths of celebrities. Other striking cases include Jade Goody’s televised documentation on her death from cervical cancer, and Farrah Fawcett’s documentary series on her battle with anal cancer. In contrast with the ‘death denied’ article, it seems the public’s intense scrutiny of the lives and deaths of celebrities is flouting even the taboo of death. I could write about this for hours on end, but it’s not getting my studying done….:(

Good luck for the exam everybody, and thank you for tolerating my blatant grammar abuse 🙂


the purpose of pain

•June 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’d often wondered why the experience of pain was used so often during initiation rituals so I found Morins’s article a good exploration of the relationship between the ordeal of pain and its taking place within a public, social context. With the cognitive transformations that the suffering of pain causes, Morins argues, an individual becomes more self -reflexive, more conscious of themselves and their understandings of their environments. At the same time, this pain often has to be fully internalised for the initiation ceremony to be considered a success, and for the initiand to be granted with both acceptance by the social group and gain access to sexual and social priviledges. Therefore, the instincts of the natural self are comprimised in order to gain legitimate membership into society. As a fully autonomous person is at odds with group membership, so the rite is structured with the ideology of a person who must to some extent bend to the will of the group so as to ensure the reproduction of social relations. Making the person more self-aware has the added bonus of making the break from one who is cared for, to one who must endure some burdens to care for others.

The sacrifice of personal automony melds the person somewhat to the moral obligations of the social group. It is revealing that those involved in carrying out the initiations are generally close kin – in small(er) scale societies, it is the more senior and often close kin members who ‘police’ the adherence to the norms and moral codes of society.

invention of initiation rites

•June 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I thought Alves’s article on the initiation rites created by young Portugese boys had some great insights. Incorporating Van Gennep’s ideas of liminality, the young boys he studied were in a kind of liminal category – not young enought to warrant constant and vigilant observation by family, their rampaging exploits through neighbourhood property were not as noticable as if they were much younger (where they needed a constant socializing to societal norms) or in their teens, where such behaviour would be perceived as threatening. This liminality is extended to the escapades themselves, where Alves records that these experiences were outside of the daily realm of mundane life, and the boys worked themselves up to being ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ in order to brave taking the risks they did. I loved Turner’s idea, as cited in this article, that a person’s conduct is an embodiment of both structure and anti-structure – where a person grows through perods or acts of anti-structure (taking risks, challenging norms in spite of knowing the possible consequences). Yet, In so growing, often through communitas such as the boys swapping their heroic stories with their peers, encouraging each other to risk such experiences, they gain an insight into the adult realities of when they must face new situations that push the margins of the discourse of social norms. So communitas can be as empowering and knowlegde-deepening as it is dangerous.

I especially liked the analysis of the rhetorical techniques used in the narratives given by the boys, employing verbal means to convey that they were as dangerous as that on a regular basis. It made me wonder whether situations such as when a person recounts all the outrageous stuff they did while they were drunk would be a similar, processual series of initiations in Western Society…

modern myth making

•May 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I loved reading Susan Gal’s article on Bartok’s funeral; it was fascinating to see how the Hungarian Communist Party had generated an entire political rhetoric around a musician who, throughout his lifetime, stubbornly resisted involvement in political matters. Intellectuals working closely with the State produced a commentary to undermine their political opponents, addressing their divisions publicly in a way that brings their conflicts to light almost under the central guidance of the State. At the same time, they produced a myth surrounding Bartok as if it were a commentary of the values of the State itself, neatly serving to brush aside the catastrophic economic crisis facing the country at the time. The justification of the Socialist state – that it could provide guaranteed employment and provide the basic necessities – was not the lived reality.

The funeral was linked to concurrent events, with Barktok’s own words taken out of their original context, to re-inforce a political argument. This myth served to undermine the long-running dichotomy within the opposition, between rapid economic activity with free market priciples under a European model (with a complex of meaning sytems including liberalism), or for favouring a slower economic restruturing relative to Hungarian tradition. The rhetoric of Bartok’s funeral provided a rhetoric which aimed to represent Bartok as a synthesis of both value systems; dually serving to undermine oppositional movements while demonstrating a link to the Western Stsates the government sought to build market relations with.

Juxtaposing the worsening political situation in Romania with Bartok as a moral crusader for the rights of non-Hungarian minorities, and Hungarian-Romanian relations, helped the State effectively position Bartok’s ethical stance as it it were its own, while contrasting itself with the Romanian Government’s apparently opposite actions.

This myth seemed so powerful that even those who could see through this political posturing still criticised it in the state’s own rhetoric; employing the semiotic significance of the Bartok myth to their own arguments.

This was a pretty profound article, I don’t think I’ve even skimmed the surface!

anzac fieldwork

•April 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Having read some of Kertzer and Jeffrey C Alexander’s work on how effective performances are put together by the manipulation of semiotic systems, it was so interesting to see the ANZAC service from this point of view. I went along to the later morning service and wreath laying (I really wish I could have made it to the dawn service, but my Dad was having surgery in Scotland and I stayed up to make sure he was ok). Having the military, political, religious and social elements converge on the same space made for really good observations…

political ritual

•April 19, 2009 • 4 Comments

With regard to our readings on Political ritual, I saw such a strong resonance with those concepts of coherence, ordered community and homogeny, and the nature of power as both being constructed and demonstrated via the manipulation of symbolic medium and values in ritual. This was pertinient in Lane’s article on Soviet Russia, where ritual is used as statements of power relationships between the Communist Party, State education, communist youth groups etc and society, whilst promoting the maintenance of the status quo with the rhetoric of revolutionary, military and labour traditions. I was particularly interested in how, through the many political rites outlined in the article, these power structures were legitimized and naturalized. The passport ritual displays this well, where an opening speech addressing young people links their secure childhood as ‘The rights written into the Soviet constitution”….the Communist state provided the good things in life. Now as an adult, you must wear the obligations (perhaps military, labour industry, of the continuity of the state itself).

It is interesting to see how the structuring of the multi-sensory facets of ritual can affect this construction of power. The unity of involvement combined with (for example) choreographed movement (marching), music, the way a speaker emotes and the subject matter…how these are put together, juxtaposed, with the system of meanings proposed as the common values and norms can elevate the experience to create an ethos, a particular view of the ideal.

I think that for the ANZAC ritual, I’m quite interested in looking at the framing of a service, and how their construction lends itself to create a sense of common ideals, values and norms.

Christmas Under the Third Reich

•April 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This reading was so illuminating of how the National Socialists under Hitler’s power appropriated systems of meaning in order to make the German population identify with Hitler’s rule. The Christian faith was seen as an ideological rival, and Hitler’s Party systematically set out to dissociate the public from Christian tradition through discrediting Christian links to the celebration, re-interpreting pagan myth and tradition or inventing new myths to naturalise and institutionalise Hilter’s power and control.

I found it particularly interesting that during the National Socialist Festive Calendar, events were structured in a way that strongly mirrored the organisation of a Church service. It was as if they appropriated this ritual with all its semiotic connections so that the “community” would make the psychological association with Hitler and the divine right to rule….