How do I explain to my soon-to-be college graduate that she has to go to her graduation ceremony? My invocations of Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner are apparently not all that compelling.
Dear Parental Unit,
Hmm. This is a great question. To what extent should we compel the people we love to abide by the lessons of our anthropological training?
Consider this: The challenge with symbolic anthropology is that symbolization is only powerful for people who give a crap about it. For every super intense community that determines what is and isn’t liminal space, there is always a sub-population of people who bail on the community, flirt with “the other,” rebel, do alterity (whatever that means), or otherwise indicate distance or dissent. That’s why this discipline cannot survive without Georg Simmel’s ”stranger,” or Mary Douglas’s “matter out of place.” Arguably, watchful non-participation is just as central to identity formation as collective participation.
Or maybe your kid is just an introvert, or was bullied, or has better things to do with her time. Maybe she doesn’t like her classmates, or how power is working through this particular ritual performance. Maybe she has secrets.
Personal anecdote here… my mom told me that I would regret not going to my prom for the rest of my life, and gave me hell over my “lost chance” at a rite of passage. What lesson did I gain from this experience? I learned that I preferred to sell popcorn at a movie theater for $5.50/hour than go to the prom. More sadly, I also learned never, ever, to tell my parents about another pending rite of passage. These kinds of little conflicts can lead to really substantial regrets on both sides later.
Today, as a parental unit myself, I can appreciate that graduations can be great. Or, they can be hot, boring, ritually stifling, conscriptive, and symbolic of a rigid set of social relations that many children are desperate to escape. If your kid doesn’t want to go to graduation, find a way to love them anyway. Figure out another, better, different rite if that’s your thing. Don’t put your kid in the crappy position of choosing between their love for you, or being forced to live out your theoretical baggage. After all, The Rites of Passage and Ritual Process are just a couple of books.
Cite as: AnthroVice. 2018. “Love, Kinship, and Ceremonial Observance.” Anthropology News website, May 23, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.876