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The demands of liminality: Community, communitas, and reflexivity

Beavitt, Richard (2012) The demands of liminality: Community, communitas, and reflexivity. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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An enduring aspect of any notion of community is a sense of being connected to others. It is the experience of communitas - in that sense of the word employed by Buber and later developed by Victor Turner - that brings a particular emphasis and persistence to this aspect of ‘belonging’ associated with community. The disparity between the hopeful ideas placed around community and the often much more chaotic and conflict ridden experience of actually being with others, suggests that communitas needs our consideration. This is particularly so if our involvement with community is to be driven not by a sense of nostalgia or utopian desire, but instead by intention to develop some agency amidst the gradients of power that surround and run through it.

Communitas presents us with a particularly unfettered form of relationship, but one that occurs primarily in liminal environments. Commonly, liminal space is considered to be a moment in time between one state and another, a condition of ‘betwixt and between’. However, this observation avoids acknowledging that the function of liminal space is to provide participants with a reflexive environment, one removed from the normal parameters of social structures. Such a reflexive space, consciously entered and exited, can provide both community members and the community itself with the opportunity to more creatively engage with the world and its own contradictions and conflicts.

Being able to move across the threshold into, and out of, liminal space, places considerable demands on those involved. My argument in this thesis, that liminality and communitas are integral to the functioning of community, leads to the proposal that negotiating the transition in and out of liminal environments requires community members to exercise a degree of individual reflective practice. Schőn’s concept of reflection-iniv action is proposed as a suitable meta-skill for operating in this way. Reflection-in-action bears an affinity with the sense of flow engendered by communitas; it also implies a readiness both to reframe questions and respond in an improvisational manner. These two gestures are required in order to meet the demands of liminality.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Palmer, David
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