Research Diary 2 Picking up where I left. La Fontaine makes a point regarding the way anthropologists have defined initiation rituals as a matter of the relationship between personality and culture. She blames psychology, especially psychoanalysis, for the attempts to explain ritual in emotional terms as a way to manage relations to the father/mother. As if ritual suits the purpose of developing the individual by altering her relationship with the parents. To La Fontaine, ritual is not about personal relationships but about organizing society. She argues that there is lack of evidence for the emotional state (causing need for ritual) and for the effect of the rites in term of resolving an emotional problem (p.106).
This discussion, again, is not of too much importance to my work. It is mostly concerned with explaining the function of initiation ritual in terms of its social relevance. I already take this to be true, and will not bother to raise the question myself. I settle with referring to authorities on the subject. Still, I cannot grasp exactly what La Fontaine means by the reference to social significance, opposed to private significance. She claims that ritual is not solely a matter of the status of the individuals (p.104) but also of the “participants” invoking the ritual – so far so good. She also states that ritual cannot be understood in terms of socialization, that is, “the process by which culture was transmitted and with the relationship between culture and personality” (p.104), hmmm….
However, I question La Fontaine’s rejection of ritual as something generated by emotional tension. After all, we do feel strongly about our rituals. While I can agree that rituals are properly not “invented” to solve inner conflicts pertaining to a child’s relation with his parents, I do think that ritual conveys truths and with them instructions for living. These can cause inner trouble pertaining to how to submit to the demands (we accept them but really do not want to do what the ritual demand from us.). I believe that coping strategies for dealing with cultural demands (truth and obligation) are an integrated part of the ritual itself. This means, I do find that ritual in this specific way, is “invented” to solve inner conflicts. Not those pertaining to how we feel about our parents, but those pertaining to how we feel about culture i.e. common values and obligations.
An example to illustrate my point is of course school. Commonly we agree that being a citizen is good (it is true that citizenship furthers democracy) and that you must be educated in order to become a citizen because, and here the myth is mobilized, education fosters the human capacities such as reflexivity, judgement, creativity.
However, few of us would care to be enrolled in the ritual of becoming a citizen (schooling). The issue with the ritual is solved by letting children perform the tasks that makes a citizen. In rather the same way, as Christians would light candles in order to escape the task of praying themselves. This line of reasoning suggest that the western maturity ritual that children are part of, is as much for adults as it is for children. School conveys the truths and norms of our society and by means of mandatory school for children only, these values are transmitted to everyone but performed only by children. The adult contribution to the ritual consists in supervising pupils (teaching), regulating the schoolwork (reform), and giving instructions on how to perform the ritual (research). This make me think that children are objects of maturity rituals more than they are subjects receiving an important lesson in life. To the adult society (not to children themselves), children are the focal point of ritual, but only as objects representing the idea of humanity on behalf of everyone and they are in no position to escape this role, assigned to them by society. Meanwhile, adults are engaged in normal life, working, shopping, paying rent.
La Fontaine writes that maturity rituals vary according to the cosmology of a society (my interpretation of her words). The rituals do share common features that makes it possible to identify a maturity ritual, such as ordeals, but any of the features can be more or less prominent in the ritual. Characteristic for western(ized) countries is the separation of mind and body and the emphasis put on the intellect. Reason is highly appreciated for its capacity to bring order about. The body is kept isolated from questions pertaining to the social order (it should not be of importance to the social order. We seek to dissolve gender and create equality between humans by smoothing out differences between gender and between those with and without body-related disabilities) and displaced to the realm of leisure time (is it not?). If maturity rituals in non-western societies pays the body special attention (circumcision etc. points to this) and connects adult status with the ability to procreate (p. 114), this is not the case in western countries. Here adult status has little to do with the responsibilities of parenthood. In western countries, those who work are considered citizens i.e. adults. Work is taken to indicate the presence of the ability to reflect, judge and be creative, because work is the reward for possessing these capabilities. Those that do not work are suspected to not possess these human qualities (this is why they have no work and should be educated/initiated). The difference in how adults are cognized is reflected in the maturity ritual. Thus, in western countries the ritual is symbolic of that which we think of as proper adult tasks such as being engaged in democracy by voting and working, taking social responsibility as a consumer of welfare and the like. Reading the chapter on interpretation in La Fontaine’s book was rather thought provoking not to say thought generating. I cannot say that she would ever draw the same conclusions pertaining to western maturity rituals as I do, but she certainly feeds my thesis about the function of school.