Ritual Communication

Ritual Communication

Ritual Communication

Ritual Communication


Ritual Communication examines how people create and express meaning through verbal and non-verbal ritual. Ritual communication extends beyond collective religious expression. It is an intrinsic part of everyday interactions, ceremonies, theatrical performances, shamanic chants, political demonstrations and rites of passage.

Despite being largely formulaic and repetitive, ritual communication is a highly participative and self-oriented process. The ritual is shaped by time, space and the individual body as well as by language ideologies, local aesthetics, contexts of use, and relations among participants.

Ritual Communication draws on a wide range of contemporary cultures – from Africa, America, Asia, and the Pacific – to present a rich and diverse study for students and scholars of anthropology, sociology and sociolinguistics.


Ellen B. Basso and Gunter Senft

Ritual communication is an undertaking or enterprise involving a making of cultural knowledge within locally variant practices of speech-centered human interaction. the position adopted in this book is that ritual communication is artful, performed semiosis, predominantly but not only involving speech, that is formulaic and repetitive and therefore anticipated within particular contexts of social interaction. Ritual communication thus has anticipated (but not always achieved) consequences. As performance, it is subject to evaluation by participants according to standards defined in part by language ideologies, local aesthetics, contexts of use, and, especially, relations of power among participants.

In this poetic-pragmatic view of ritual language or ritual communication, “meaningfulness” is both a retrospective and a prospective process. Participants use local, inherited understandings and experiences, both collective and personal, to create new events and prospective selves and to project these forward into an anticipation of the future. in all places and times, people appear to describe types of talk, which persons use them, how their use is experienced, their effects and relations to each other, and what happens when they are misused. Although some claim that the actual relationships between rules and consequences are often unclear—uncertain even to the speakers themselves—in fact many resources are available to local speakers for use in new contexts of ritualization. Most important among these resources are narratives about actual conversational and other discursive examples of the linguistic forms in past practice and of persons who spoke concretely in particular ways in the past. Because they are narratives, these texts also provide considerable information regarding the precursor and subsequent . . .

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