Liminal Spaces

Of liminal spaces

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals (a psychic/temporal/physical space), when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage (that is, in the liminal space), participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

Derived from the writings of Victor Turner

The anthropological definition, while not of direct interest to Narrative Environment design, underpins most other current definitions of liminality and thence, liminal spaces, which most certainly are of interest to NE design.

edited 27 November, 2015 by Stuart Jones

Associated Practices

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Associated Practices

Liminal Spaces

in Narrative environment design

A liminal space can be a key component of a Narrative Environment. A liminal space can be either a physical or a temporal space, and often both at the same time, but it is always a psychic space.

Liminal spaces are places/times in which the audience is disorientated/moved from their normative assessment of ‘reality’ in order to prepare them for a different ‘reality’ presented in the main Narrative Space.

Here is a lovely account of a temporal liminal space, from Daisetz Suzuki, a 20th century Zen Master:

Suzuki: “Before Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. During Zen, things get a little mixed up. After Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains.” Questioner: “what’s the difference?” Suzuki: “No difference, only feet a little bit off the ground.”

Some background: since the work of Turner in the 60s, usage of the term liminality has broadened to refer to political and cultural change. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.

Powerful stuff, as you can see.

Bjørn Thomassen, 2009,The Uses and Meanings of Liminality (International Political Anthropology ) p. 51

Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, 2009, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology )

Arpad Szakolczai,2009, Liminality and Experience: Structuring transitory situations and transformative events (International Political Anthropology ) p. 141

Liminal spaces are closely related to thresholds. (not just etymologically).

edited 4 September, 2018 by Stuart Jones