4 minute read

Rites of Passage

The Persistence Of Rites Of Passage

Martha and Morton Fried (1980) surveyed rites of passage associated with the transitions of birth, puberty, marriage, and death in eight societies of different levels of technological advancement. Although these cultures have significant differences, the Frieds have found that the persistence of these ceremonies is not a function of the political system or economy. Social controls were implemented in China, Cuba, and the former members of the Soviet Union to define rites of passage in terms of the communist state. As the Frieds note, these attempts failed. There appears to be a persistence to rites of passage, particularly those associated with life-crises that other mechanisms of the social system cannot efficiently or effectively transport social members through.

Although globalization has compressed both time and space on a world scale (Soja 1989), despite these homogenizing influences cultural distinctiveness at the local level continues to assert itself. For example, African American youth, generally males, are developing meaningful rites of passage to experience and exert a positive sense of self-identity (Brookins 1996; McKenry et al. 1997).

Yet there are other ways rites of passage are being used. Emma Ogilvie and Allan Van Zyle (2001) recently considered incarceration of Aboriginal youth in the remote Northern Territory of Australia as a rite of passage for these young men. In discussing the experience of criminal offending and imprisonment among informants, aged eighteen to twenty-five, from twelve isolated communities, Ogilvie and Van Zyl found that imprisonment "provided access [to] resources unavailable within the original communities . . . The interviews point to detention as an opportunity for a different experience from that available in the remote communities . . . detention provides something new" (2001, p. 4). This is indeed a disturbing reminder that ritual practice is neither always positive nor celebratory.


Adam, B. (1999). "Radiated Identities: In Pursuit of the Temporal Complexity of Conceptual Cultural Practices." In Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. M. Featherstone and S. Lash. London: Sage.

Bennett, J. F. (1988). Events and Their Names. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bloch, M. (1986). From Blessing to Violence: History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina of Madagascar. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bromberger, C. (1995). "Football as World-View and as Ritual." French Cultural Studies 6(3):293–311.

Brookins, C. C. (1996). "Promoting Ethnic Identity Development in African American Youth: The Role of Rites of Passage." Journal of Black Psychology 22(3):388–417.

Canessa, A. (1999). "Making Persons, Marking Differences: Procreation Beliefs in Highland Bolivia." In Conceiving Persons: Ethnographies of Procreation, Fertility, and Growth, ed. P. Loizos and P. Heady. London: Athlone.

Davidson, D. (1980). Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger.

Fox, R. (1983). Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective, American edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fried, M. N., and Fried, M. H. (1980). Transitions: Four Rituals in Eight Cultures. New York: Norton.

Garfinkel, H. (1956). "Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies." American Journal of Sociology 61:420–424.

Herdt, G. H. (1994). Guardians of the Flute: Idioms of Masculinity, Vol. 1, rev. edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kertzer, D. I. (1988). Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. (1949, 1969). The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. J. H. Bell and J. R. von Sturmer. Boston: Beacon Press.

Loizos, P., and Heady, P., eds. (1999). Conceiving Persons: Ethnographies of Procreation, Fertility, and Growth. London: Athlone.

Mair, L. P. (1977). Marriage, rev. edition. London: Scholar Press.

McKenry, P. C.; Kim, H. K.; Bedell, T.; Alford, K. A.; and Gavazzi, S. M. (1997). "An Africentric Rites of Passage Program for Adolescent Males." Journal of African American Men 3(2):7–20.

Richards, A. I. (1982). Chisungu: A Girls' Initiation Ceremony among the Bemba of Zambia, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

Rivers, W. H. R. (1906). The Todas. London: Macmillan.

Sanday, P. R. (1990). Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. New York: New York University Press.

Schechner, R., and Appel, W., eds. (1990). By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Scheper-Hughes, N. (1992). Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Singer, M. B. (1972). When a Great Tradition Modernizes: An Anthropological Approach to Indian Civilization. New York: Praeger.

Soja, E. W. (1989). Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso.

Turner, V. (1977). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure, First Cornell edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Turner, V. (1986). "Dewy, Dilthey, and Drama: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience." In The Anthropology of Experience, ed. V. Turner and E. M. Bruner. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Turner, V. (1990). "Are There Universals of Performance in Myth, Ritual, and Drama?" In By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual, ed. R. Schechner and W. Appel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

van Gennep, A. (1960). The Rites of Passage. [Originally published in 1909 in the French as Les rites de passage]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

van Meerbeeck, A. (1995). "The Importance of a Religious Service at Birth: The Persistent Demand for Baptism in Flanders (Belgium)." Social Compass 42(1):47–58.

Weiner, A. B. (1976). Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Other Resources

Locke, L. (1999). "'Don't dream it, be it': The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Cultural Performance." New Directions in Folkore 3 [E-journal]. Available from http://www.temple.edu/isllc/newfolk/journal_ archive.html.

Ogilvie, E., and Van Zyle, A. (2001). Young Indigenous Males, Custody and the Rites of Passage. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Available from http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/ti204.pdf.



Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsRites of Passage - Rites Of Passage Cross-culturally, Cultural Performance, Social Drama, And Rites Of Passage