Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education

Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education

Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education

Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education


College students and graduates have fond memories of campus events such as commencement, founder's days, convocations, and baccalaureate. These events, defined as rites of passage, secular ceremonies, or cultural performances, create a special feel to a campus remembered for years to come. Borrowing from interpretive anthropology, the author spotlights the following ideas: culture is revealed and forms of life are expressed through the actions and words of community members; human communities are dynamic, complex, and ever-changing environments revealed through analysis of cultural events; and commonplace rituals and ceremonies play a central role in the cultural work of human meaning. The purpose of the book is to explore campus culture as revealed through rituals and ceremonies.


Educational reform has fallen upon hard times. The traditional assumption that schooling is fundamentally tied to the imperatives of citizenship designed to educate students to exercise civic leadership and public service has been eroded. The schools are now the key institution for producing professional, technically trained, credentialized workers for whom the demands of citizenship are subordinated to the vicissitudes of the marketplace and the commercial public sphere. Given the current corporate and right wing assault on public and higher education, coupled with the emergence of a moral and political climate that has shifted to a new social Darwinism, the issues that framed the democratic meaning, purpose, and use to which education might aspire have been displaced by more vocational and narrowly ideological considerations.

The war waged against the possibilities of an education wedded to the precepts of a real democracy is not merely ideological. Against the backdrop of reduced funding for public schooling, the call for privatization, vouchers, cultural uniformity, and choice, there are the often ignored larger social realities of material power and oppression. On the national level, there has been a vast resurgence of racism. This is evident in the passing of anti-immigration laws such as proposition 187 in California, the dismantling of the welfare state, the demonization of black youth that is taking place in the popular media, and the remarkable attention provided by the media to forms of race talk that argue for the intellectual inferiority of blacks or dismiss calls for racial justice as simply a holdover from the "morally bankrupt" legacy of the 1960s.

Poverty is on the rise among children in the United States, with 20 percent of all children under the age of eighteen living below the poverty line. Unemployment is growing at an alarming rate for poor youth of color, especially in the urban centers. While black youth are policed and disciplined in and out of the nation's schools, conservative and liberal educators define education through the ethnically limp discourses of privatization, national standards, and global competitiveness.

Many writers in the critical education tradition have attempted to challenge the . . .

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