Re: Dancin',etc.<debate> <very long>

N. Bannister - L. Maners (landn@AZSTARNET.COM)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 23:00:06 -0700

I think the Bloch article which John is referencing here is "Symbols,
Dance, Music and Features of Articulation..."European Archives of
Sociology 1974 15-55-81 "Three Drawer Lateral File" Lynn

On Sat, 17 Feb 1996, John McCreery wrote:

> John Stevens says, repeatedly, "RITUAL." Ralph Holloway says
> of dance vs drill (and the schema I saw underlying our recent
> discussions), " NO, NO, these are not polarities, they are a
> continuum of
> experience." I couldn't agree more. Leaving aside for the
> moment our own "emic" (a.k.a. cultural, personal, subjective)
> distinctions between dance and drill, I'd like to direct our
> attention back to the broader category of rhythmically patterned
> behavior, which includes not only what we may want to call
> "dance" or "drill" and Tokyo commuter behavior, but also what
> has been called "ritual" and, if we stop to think about what poets
> have told us as far back as we have a record and important aspect
> of "language" as well.
> In all of these areas we find continua along which there are
> different degrees of formalization, and the study of formalization
> touches many important threads in anthropological theory. Here
> I would note, first, the seminal work of sociolinguist Basil
> Bernstein, who developed the idea of restricted vs. elaborated
> codes to account for differences in size of vocabulary and degree
> of syntatic elaboration in the language of different British social
> groups. (His interest was, I note in passing, highly applied as well
> as theoretical. He was deeply concerned with what critics of
> British education had seen as the limited vocabulary and
> impoverished syntax of students at working class schools.) What
> Bernstein discovered was the association of limited vocabulary
> and a restricted range of syntatic forms in social groups whose
> members' lives were spent mostly with each other. Besides
> members of long-established working class communities, these
> also included the British aristocracy, who like their working class
> counterparts spend most of their lives within their own small
> social circle.
> It was Mary Douglas who picked up Bernstein's ideas and used
> them to develop her own theories of ritual in _Natural
> Symbols_. Maurice Bloch develops a similar idea in an article
> (the title eludes me just now) in which he claimed that ritual
> compels participants to accept traditional authority by severely
> limited the vocabulary and syntax available to them in ritual
> situations. I have shown in my own work ("Negotiating with
> Demons" in the first 1995 issue of American Ethnologist) that
> while Bloch's position is overstated, it may be possible to show
> that the degree of formalization in ritual speech is correlated
> with the strength of claims to authority.
> Bloch's position is overstated (1) because he underestimates the
> range of variability possible within highly restricted forms of
> either language or behavior and (2) because he assumes from
> conventional definitions of ritual as repetitive behavior that the
> language and behavior found in "ritual" contexts will always be
> highly formulaic. Neither of these assumptions is true.
> Concerning (1), anyone who has studied poetry knows that there
> are tightly prescribed forms, the English sonnet, the T'ang lyric,
> the Japanese haiku for example within which poets have found
> it possible to write literally thousands of different poems, and
> there is no end in sight. The combinatorial possibilities of even
> small sets of elements and highly restricted frameworks are far
> larger than we usually imagine them to be. (Beyond poetry
> consider the possibilities created by the five Peano postulates--all
> that is needed for number theory, the table of chemical elements
> and a few simple rules of molecular bonding, or the number of
> human genetic combinations made possible by sexual
> reproduction--estimated by Dobshzansky as greater than the
> number of electrons in the visible universe.) Concerning (2),
> anyone who has ever participated in a Christian (or Jewish,
> Buddhist, Hindu...) liturgy will have been able to observe the
> truth noted by Stanley Tambiah that rituals often include a
> variety of different forms of language (and other behavior) and
> the sequence and method of their combination may tell us a
> great deal about their intended or inadvertant effects.
> What Mary Douglas suggested was a simple four-cell table that
> partitions the continuum of social life on the two dimensions
> she calls "group" and "grid." If, in a classic Durkheimian way,
> ritual is seen as marking social distinctions, rituals associated
> with "group" mark the group's boundaries; rituals associated
> with "grid" mark hierarchies within it. The four cells are, then,
> (a) low-grid, low-group=egalitarian groups with highly
> permeable boundaries/mobile memberships, (b) low-grid, high-
> group=egalitarian, but with sharply defined boundaries/stable
> memberships, (c) high-grid, low-group=great concern for rank in
> groups with permeable boundaries/mobile memberships, and (d)
> high-grid, high-group=great concern both for rank and for group
> boundaries.
> What I showed in my own paper was, in part, that formalization
> itself could take two forms: (a) poetic formality, in which terms
> vary within fixed frames [sonnets, haiku, etc., also the Trobriand
> spells analyzed by Tambiah in his Malinowski lecture], but also
> (b) logical formality, in which the terms are fixed and frames
> systematically varied around them to exhibit logical
> relationships (If p then q implies not q not p, that sort of thing).
> In both cases formality asserts authority, but (a) proceeds, as it
> were, poetically/rhetorically, by piling on tropes, while (b)
> proceeds, as it were, in the opposite direction by focusing on
> relationships.
> All this is by way of sketching the elements of a theoretical
> framework in which, it seems, to me much of our recent
> discussion concerning dance vs. drill might be fitted.
> Comments please.
> John McCreery
> Yokohama
> February 17, 1996