Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events

Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events

Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events

Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events


Ritual is one of the most discussed cultural practices, yet its treatment in anthropological terms has been seriously limited, characterized by a host of narrow conceptual distinctions. One major reason for this situation has been the prevalence of positivist anthropologies that have viewed and summarized ritual occasions first and foremost in terms of their declared and assumed functions. By contrast, this book, which has become a classic, investigates them as epistemological phenomena in their own right. The author aries that in comparing and understanding public events -- a domain which includes "ritual" and "the practice of practice" generally -- one must first comprehend the logics of their design. For it is these logics of organization which establish in large measure the significance of ritual in relation to the world within which it is created and practised.


I intended Models and Mirrors to be a book of ideas on what is (still so loosely and at times lightly) called 'ritual' in anthropology and cognate disciplines, and not a compendium of truth, or, for that matter, even of knowledge on the subject.

How phenomena that may be called 'rituals' exist in (and through) social worlds is of extreme importance. 'Rituals' are constituted through practice. So, for example, there was not and is not anything that can be called 'religion' without its practice, and this practice is often called 'ritual'. If religion is not practiced, it dies. One can argue that, to a considerable extent, 'ritual' actively constitutes (because it generates in and through practice) what is understood as 'religion'. So, too, more broadly (and now without any reference to religion), 'rituals' intentionally organize and orientate us to our horizons of being-in-the-world. Through the different meta-logics that organize the practice of 'rituals', we are enabled to change and/or to stultify, in relation to the possibilities that these horizons offer and withhold. Practice (the embodiment of the human being in action, moving towards, perceiving, and reconstituting horizons-of-being) is the condition of being human. Practice is the normal condition of curiosity about oneself in relation to the world. Practice makes us social beings, and curiosity is integral to this.

Stemming from my own curiosity, the ideas of this volume are intentionally provisional and uncertain, and therefore playful (in the sense of play discussed in chapters 3, 4, and 5 - good to think with and to take in your own directions, together with, or instead of, in mine). The modes of thinking in the volume - modes of perception, analysis, and the making of connections - are much more important than the conclusions reached. But I cannot spell out these ways of thinking without subverting the effects that the book may have on you. So, too, you can only know whether these ways of thinking resonate within you by reading the volume. (In this respect the volume is modular - it can be read as a coherent piece, but each chapter also stands by itself and can be read as such).

The consequences of intentionally explicating all information and thereby making it available to consciousness, were set out close to three decades ago . . .

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