Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice
“[R]itual has simultaneously become an object, a method, and even something of a style of scholarship on the American academic scene” (3).
“This book undertakes such an analysis in two ways: first, through a critical reading of how the notion of ritual has been used in the study of religion, society, and culture; second, through an attempt to carve out an approach to ritual activities that is less encumbered by assumptions about thinking and acting and more disclosing of the strategies by which ritualized activities do what they do” (4).
The book analyzes the work that has been done with ritual as a category to get to where the scholarship is and suggests other places to take the category of ritual (4). The starting point of the study is consideration of what causes certain acts to be called ritual, how the category affects knowledge about other cultures, and what the assumptions are that limit how we think of ritual (4).
The book also seeks to understand how theoretical knowledge is formed and “theoretical activity is differentiated from other forms of social activity” (5). To do so, need to consider historical development of issues, engagement with our cultural categories, extend this to real examples (5).
The book is organized into 3 parts:
Part I: “[T]he chapters in Part I take up the initial task of a critical theory of ritual by addressing the construction of the category itself and the role this construction has played in organizing a broad discourse on religion, society, and culture. Despite the differences among historians of religion, sociologists, and anthropologists, their theories of ritual all similarly function to resolve the complex problems posed by an initial bifurcation of thought and action. Indeed, theoretical discourse about ritual is organized as a coherent whole by virtue of a logic based on the opposition of thought and action. This argument suggests that, historically, the whole issue of ritual arose as a discrete phenomenon to the eyes of social observers in that period in which ‘reason’ and the scientific pursuit of knowledge were defining a particular hegemony in Western intellectual life” (6).
Bell argues against Goody, who proposes to throw out the term ritual, which carries with it associations of universality. Bell proposes to retain but modify the term: “I do intend to modify the term ritual to function as something other than a ‘global construct’ or ‘a key to culture.’ Yet my close reliance upon current and preceding scholarship ensures continuity with the commonsense notion of ritual while making explicit some of the assumptions and perspectives built into it” (7). Namely, she questions the universality (7).
Part II: “I propose a focus on ‘ritualization’ as a strategic way of acting and then turn to explore how and why this way of acting differentiates itself from other practices. When analyzed as ritualization, acting ritually emerges as a particular cultural strategy of differentiation linked to particular social effects and rooted in a distinctive interplay of a socialized body and the environment it structures. The confusions that accompany attempts to distinguish clearly between rite and non-rite—those perennial obstacles to neat definitions and classification—are revealed to be highly significant for understanding what ritualization does” (7-8).
Part III: is on theories of ritual as social control. “The main argument suggests that ritualization is a strategy for the construction of a limited and limiting power relationship. This is not a relationship in which one social group has absolute control over another, but one that simultaneously involves both consent and resistance, misunderstanding and appropriation. In exploring how ritualized ways of acting negotiate authority, self, and society, I attempt to delineate something of the social dynamics by which all activity reproduces and manipulates its own contextual ground” (8).
Her argument relies on analysis of how language is used (8).
“This book is organized around a problem it first constructs and then solves—the problem of how the notion of ritual orders a body of theoretical discourse” (8).
Part I: The Practice of Ritual Theory
Introduction to the section:
Ritual theories are embedded in larger discourses, and how ritual is conceived reflects and supports the discourse that is its frame. This makes including ritual as objective data instead of analytic tool problematic, and it is hard to prevent a slippage from the latter to the former (13); after Kuhn and Foucault it is problematic to simply suggest ritual is a neutral category by recourse to claims that ritual is merely an analytic tool (14). Bell then goes on to outline a brief genealogy of ritual as an analytic term, starting in the 19th century when it emerges as a universal category to the more recent transformation of ritual into both an object of and a method of analysis (14). Ritual has been paired with belief as the component of religion by a range of theorists: Max Müller, Herbert Spencer, William James and others suggested that religion (centered around the sacred) is about ideas while ritual/behavior were secondary and expressive of belief (14). Durkheim and others analyzed religion as a combination of belief and rites, where the former is primary; Hubert and Mauss inverted this, suggesting rites are primary. Moving beyond religion after Mauss, ritual came to be associated not just with religion but with the more basic structures of symbolization and social communication, as well as the emerging category of culture (key to Geertz and Turner among others) (15). Ritual studies has emerged which studies ritual in its own right as both universal experience and analytic tool; in it, ritual has come to be a site where opposed social forces are brought back together again (16). She then lays out her argument for the section:
“I will show theoretical discourse on ritual to be highly structured by the differentiation and subsequent reintegration of two particular categories of human experience: thought and action. An exploration of the internal logic of this differentiation and reintegration of thought and action in ritual theory suggests that the recent role of ritual as a category in the study of culture has been inextricably linked to the construction of a specifically ‘cultural’ methodology, a theoretical approach that defines and addresses ‘cultural’ data. That is, the problems we face in analyzing ritual, as well as the impetus for engaging these particular problems, have less to do with interpreting the raw data and more to do with the manner in which we theoretically constitute ritual as the object of a cultural method of interpretation” (16-17).
Summary: Bell’s major argument for this chapter is that a pattern emerges in ritual theory whereby thought and action are dichotomized and then subsequently reintegrated. This happens for a number of homologous pairs besides thought and action, like synchrony and diachrony, communitas and formalized social order (Turner), or ritual observer and actor (Geertz). The basic thought/action dichotomy is a model for this bifurcation and reintegration in this series of homologous pairs, which is driven because a logic of behavioral versus conceptual categories is set up which carries throughout work on ritual.
One pattern in theory of ritual: Ritual theory generally distinguishes action from conceptual parts of religion like belief, symbol, and myth. The latter may promote the former, but they are distinct. Sometimes ritual is described as action which is done without thought, an extreme bifurcation (19).
A second pattern: “This second pattern describes ritual as type of functional or structural mechanism to reintegrate the thought-action dichotomy, which may appear in the guise of a distinction between belief and behavior or any number of other homologous pairs” (20).
Bell shows that these two patterns are evident in several theories of ritual, including Durkheim’s.
There is a related pattern whereby ritual is portrayed as “synchronic, continuous, traditional or ontological in opposition to the diachronic, changing, historical, or social” but ritual is also portrayed as the nexus of these forces (20).
A third pattern is seen in Turner’s work, ritual is related to communal unity as opposed to friction and competition, but then it is also the site of mediation between communitas and the formalized social order (21).
Bell uses these three patterns to show how prevalent the bifurcation and then reunification at the site of ritual is: “Each of these examples employs the two structural patterns described previously: ritual is first differentiated as a discrete object of analysis by means of various dichotomies that are loosely analogous to thought and action; then ritual is subsequently elaborated as the very means by which these dichotomous categories, neither of which could exist without the other, are reintegrated” (21).
“In effect, the dichotomy that isolates ritual on the one hand and the dichotomy that is mediated by ritual on the other become loosely homologized with each other. Essentially, as I will demonstrate, the underlying dichotomy between thought and action continues to push for a loose systemization of several levels of homologized dichotomies, including the relations between the ritual observer and the ritual actor. It is this invisible process of ‘homologization’, driven by the implicit presence of an opposition between conceptual and behavioral categories, that begins to construct a persuasive and apparently logical body of discourse” (21).
Bell draws on Jameson to note parallel in linguistic theory of differentiation of two terms that come up in subsequent levels of analysis. The example of this is Saussure’s repeated pattern replication of the distinction between synchrony and diachrony that infuses levels of analysis with this artificial distinction (21-22). A similar thing happens in ritual, though unlike Saussure, in ritual, there is a reintegration not just serial differentiations (23). Ritual is DIALECTIC unlike Saussure’s linguistic theory which is based on dichotomy: “[R]itual is a dialectical means for the provisional convergence of those opposed forces whose interaction is seen to constitute culture in some form” (23).
The example is given of those analyzing Durkheim and Durkheim himself, there is a tendency to see two sociocultural processes and then try to find a theory that reintegrates them (25). Theorists speculating on ritual have tended to manipulate the thought-action dichotomy in constructing theories of ritual (25): “Hence, I am suggesting that descriptions of how rituals work have been constructed according to a logic rooted in the dynamics of theoretical speculation and the unconscious manipulation of the thought-action dichotomy is intrinsic to this construction” (25).
Bell turns to Geertz to illustrate the dichotomy/dialectic relationship in ritual theory. Geertz, who is focused on meaning, polarizes ethos and worldview, which is parallel to the analogous to the split between action and belief, respectively. He also presents them as synthesized at other times, making the ethos-worldview relationship into a dialectic (there is a related argument for “models for” and “models of”) (26). “Thus, the dichotomous nature of conceptions of order (worldview) and dispositions for action (ethos) is fundamental to Geertz’s approach, as is their resolution in such symbolic systems as ritual. The temporary resolution of a dichotomy is cast as the central dynamic of cultural life” (27).
A third pattern, too, emerges in Geertz, in addition to the dichotomy and synthesis pattern. He brings in the relationship between observer and participant of ritual: for Geertz, “ritual offers a special vantage point for the theorist to observe these processes” (27).
There is a dichotomy between what the outside observer has to analyze ritual, which is conceptual categories, and what the participant has, which is his own “conceptual framework and dispositional imperatives.” “In this argument, Geertz is setting up a third structural pattern and a third permutation of the thought-action dichotomy. That is, ritual participants act, whereas those observing them think. In ritual activity, conceptions and dispositions are fused for the participants, which yields meaning. Meaning for the outside theorist comes differently: insofar as he or she can perceive in ritual the true basis of its meaningfulness for the ritual actors—that is, its fusion of conceptual and dispositional categories—then the theorists can go beyond mere thoughts about activity to grasp the meaningfulness of the ritual. By recognizing the ritual mechanism of meaningfulness for participants, the theorist in turn can grasp its meaningfulness as a cultural phenomenon. Ritual activity can then become meaningful to the theorist. Thus, a cultural focus on ritual activity renders the rite a veritable window on the most important process of cultural life” (28). Thus, theoretical explanation of meaning “is itself a fusion of thought and action,” the former the theorist’s and the latter the participant’s. “Herein likes the implicit structural homology: the fusion of thought and action described within ritual is homologized to a fusion of the theoretical project and its object, ritual activity. Both generate meaning—the first for the ritual actor and the second for the theorist” (28).
Summary: In this chapter, Bell argues that a circular logic arises when theorists base their theories of ritual on depictions of a social order that is derived from assumptions brought in by the theorist. The basic assumption is the differentiation of thought and action, and layers of homologous pairs are built on that. The theory of ritual that results is built on these introduced assumptions. Using examples of Geertz, Marxian/Hegelian concept of contradiction, Turner and Gluckman, and performance and other analogy-based theories like ritual as text, Bell suggests that what is presumed at the beginning (the discontinuity or the analogy to performance, for example) comes to dictate the conclusion about ritual that the theorist comes to at the end.
Bell opens with examples from Milton Singer and Geertz which she uses to argue that the theorist imposes his thought pattern on ritual (30-31)
She lays out the main argument up front: “Most simply, we might say, ritual is to the symbols it dramatizes as action is to thought; on a second level, ritual integrates thought and action; and on a third level, a focus on ritual performances integrates our thought and their action. The opposition of the theorist and the ritual object becomes homologized with two other oppositions, namely, the opposition that differentiates ritual (beliefs versus activities) and the opposition of two fundamental sociocultural forces that is resolved by ritual (conceptual versus dispositional forces). This homology is achieved by a hidden appeal to a type of common denominator, the opposition of thought and action. In the end, a model of ritual that integrates opposing sociocultural forces becomes homologized to a mode of theoretical discourse that reintegrates the dichotomy underlying the identification of a thinking theorist and an acting object. This type of expedient logic carries another inevitable corollary, however. That is, theories of ritual which attempt to integrate thought and action in any guise simultaneously function to maintain their differentiation” (32).
Bell goes on to show the circular logic that results from theories that start by differentiating thought and action and build layers of homologies (32)
Geertz is a primary example: Geertz distinguishes between cultural and social system, where the former is symbolic and the latter is action-based (33). After he sets up these separate categories, he suggests that ritual that fails is ritual in which culture and social system are discontinuous. Bell argues his reasoning is circular: “Ultimately, the discontinuity affirmed in the conclusion is a direct replication of the differentiation established in the beginning” (34). He fails to do better than the functionalists he critiques for not being able to explain change (33-34).
A second set of examples of circularity from homologized patterns within ritual theory is drawn from the group of theorists who describe ritual as an arena where social conflicts are worked out (Max Gluckman and Victor Turner). These arguments lead to circularity, too, because the conclusions seem to result from what the theorist has imposed on the system: “As with Geertz’s approach, these theories see ritual as designed to address fundamental conflicts and contradictions in the society, and there is similarly little evidence that the conflicts so addressed are not simply imposed through the categories of the observer” (35-6).
Another example of the same circularity of explaining the fundamentals of culture such that the theoretical tool solves puzzles that the theorist tries to explain is the Marxian and Hegelian idea of contradiction. That ritual solves fundamental social contradiction is a constructed myth, as is the idea that there’s something fundamental (36-7)
The last example is of “Performance” theory and other related analogical theories like text:
Bell claims that performance theory is guilty of presenting activity as dramatizing prior conceptual entities in order to affirm them. A system for how society works is presumed and then ritual is seen to play out in that way, i.e. Grimes suggest that the human body is primary to ritual but explains this because the body can enact social roles and cultural meanings.
Performance theory fails to break out of the dichotomy pattern. It also relies on the theorist-observer to be a participant (because a performance needs an audience) (39).
Bell critiques Turner’s late work for remaining dialectical and Stanley Tambiah’s theory of ritual as communication for falling into the dialectic pattern, too (41-42).
In her overall critique of performance theory, Bell criticizes how it rests on a slippery extended metaphor, which leads to naturalization of observer, the slippage from performance as metaphor to idea that that is the actual nature of the activity, there is no way to distinguish between different types of performance (42).
Some theorists have tried to build on and improve performance theory, but they are still vulnerable to critiques, such as the fact that sometimes ritual isn’t a performance but is intended to cause change in the outside world (43).
Geertz looks at ritual by other metaphors, including game, drama, or text (43). For example, in “Deep Play,” ritual is depicted like a text which can be decoded but also acknowledges the difficulties of using text as a metaphor, which is echoed by Tambiah (44).
Some of the problems with text as a metaphor for ritual: assumption that text is “autonomous and unified” and that it has a hidden meaning which is “fully accessible to a close reading” (45). “As the foregoing thought-action argument illustrated, the assumed existence of such a ‘something,’ the latent meaning of the act, once again devalues the action itself, making it a second-stage representation of prior values” (45). Though there are some merits to performance theory, it is problematic because it easily slips from tool to feature of reality (46).
Summary: After a thorough summary of what she has covered so far—the homologized oppositions between thought and action, the thinking subject and non-thinking subject, theorist and actor, as well as the way that ritual serves a function of reintegrating these oppositions—Bell emphasizes how the discourse of ritual has been overdetermined by the initial dichotomy and rejects the thought-action dichotomy as a basis for understanding ritual. She suggests that the subordination of actors to thinkers is more damaging than the bifurcation itself. The activity of separating categories is used to imply an inequality between two things (black and white, male and female), and such an activity is harmful, but she also suggests that to understand differentiation as an activity is to understand the basis of theory-making. There are two parts to generating a theoretical discourse: identify a distinct level or mode of analysis and then identify an object of analysis, which is not independent of the mode. The two are co-constructed, each implying the naturalness of the other. After a series of examples, Bell discusses a debate in anthropology over whether there’s been a move away from grand social theory about culture and society to a discipline that is more narrowly focused on specific contexts and experiences in the field. As Quentin Skinner points out, against such arguments, those who wish to move away from object and discourse construction are actually generated “architechtonic theoretical frameworks” (52) that only appear anti-theoretical and committed to cultural self-reflection by the West. Bell provides examples of how postmodern conceptions of anthropology are engaged in self-critique, and briefly theorizes on why this discourse of cultural knowledge has come about (changes in the humanities, “the natives” freed from colonial assumptions and being educated abroad). She suggests that within this discourse of cultural knowledge, there may be attempts to deal with the traditional relationship between subject and theorist which needs to be reevaluated within this new context. Yet, domination has not disappeared, and is in fact maintained in the thought-action dichotomy.
“In the final analysis the results of such a differentiation between thought and action cannot be presumed to provide an adequate position vis-à-vis human activity as such. Naturally, as many others have argued before, the differentiation tends to distort not only the nature of so-called physical activities, but the nature of mental ones as well. Yet the more subtle and far-reaching distortion is not the obvious bifurcation of a single, complex reality into dichotomous aspects that can exist in theory only. Rather, it is the far more powerful act of subordination disguised in such differentiation , the subordination of act to thought, or actors to thinkers” (48-49).
“To generate theoretical discourse on culture, or almost any theoretical discourse for that matter, it is necessary to do two things: first, to specify a distinct level or mode of analysis, in this case a ‘cultural’ level; and second, to identify an object or phenomenon that exists as a ‘meaningful totality’ only on such a level of analysis. This object will act as the natural object of the specified mode of analysis, although the object so identified is not independent of this analysis; it is constituted and depicted as such in terms of the specified mode of analysis. That is, the object and the method are actually intrinsic to each other, one demonstrating the naturalness and validity of the other. As we have seen with ritual, particularly in the extended example drawn from Geertz, the structure of the constituted object is a veritable model of the method of analysis and vice versa” (49).
Example from Mauss of the method/subject reliance in work on gifts (49-50), Geertz on culture and meaning (50), and Ricoeur on text and social action (50-51).
“In this very abbreviated summary, Ricoeur can be seen to lay out the steps for creating an object amenable to a certain type of scrutiny; insofar as the object so constructed and scrutinized is een to yield a higher, fuller, truer meaning (indeed, its only real meaningfulness), it simultaneously constructs and legitimates that method of scrutiny” (51).
“Skinner finds that despite themselves the major ‘anti-theorists’ of the last few decades have generated comprehensive and architectonic theoretical frameworks. Different from the ‘laws-and-instances’ mode of theorizing, as Geertz put it, the more recent style of object-and-discourse construction can appear to its participants as antitheoretical and committed to cultural self-reflection. Indeed, the cultural knowledge constituted in this type of discourse tends to see itself as both salvaging other cultures from Westernization and serving as the basis for the West’s own cultural critique” (52).
“Cultural knowledge constituted through the study of ritual and performance appears to experiment with a new sense of community between theorists and actors, characterized by modest, mutual dependence and shared problems of meaning, epistemology, and critical self-reflection. Yet the domination of the theoretical subject is neither abrogated nor transcended. This domination is maintained and disguised by virtue of the implicit structuring of the thought-action dichotomy in its various forms” (54).
“I have tried to suggest that ritual is an eminently suitable device for organizing a theoretical conversation that wishes to uncover cultural meanings through the interpretation of ‘texts’ that ‘reek of meaning.’ The construction of ritual as a decipherable text allows the theorist to interpret simply by deconstructing ritual back into its prefused components. The theoretical construction of ritual becomes a reflection of the theorist’s method and the motor of a discourse in which the concerns of theorists take center stage” (54).
Part II: The Sense of Ritual
“By building on specific aspects of practice theory, however, I will lay out an approach to ritual activities that stresses the primacy of the social act itself, how its strategies are lodged in the very doing of the act, and how ‘ritualization’ is a strategic way of acting in specific social situations. The framework of ritualization casts a new light on the purpose of ritual activity, its social efficacy, and its embodiment in complex traditions and systems” (67).
Summary: Bell first sets up the problem with ritual theories that have been created thus far. Most attempts to define ritual do so by setting up a universal, and therefore incomplete, definition of ritual. Such definitions define what can be called ritual and what cannot and lead to categories of ritual. While taxonomy of ritual has been important for organizing the study of ritual, it has led to several problems: a “dizzying” number of types arise that leads theorist to talk in circles, categories undermine indigenous distinctions and blurs the particulars into unnuanced generals. Theories of ritual have tended to fall into one of two categories: rituals are a distinctive form of activity or rituals are congruous with other human actions. Within the distinctiveness group, there is a tendency to distinguish the ritual/magical (symbolic and noninstrumental) from the technical/utilitarian (practical and instrumental). The distinction between symbolic and instrumental has a tendency to collapse into emotional versus logical, which itself often leads to ritual described as cathartic and dealing with anxiety. She also notes that the symbolic vs practical distinction is not a native, but an imposed one. The other group, the one that sees “ritual as an aspect of all activity” is a newer set of theories. In this group are theories that see ritual as a type of routinization or communication. This group runs the risk of analyzing all parts of human life as ritual. She then introduces her approach, based on the idea of ritualization, which involves analyzing how certain social actions differentiate themselves from others.
To explore the dynamics of social actions, Bell turns to the concept of practice, one that has been used since Marx “to transcend dichotomies that ‘wrongly divide’ human experience” (75). She explains Marx’s two usages, one that is descriptive and one that is prescriptive. The former deals with human nature and activity, responding to problems from Hegel and Feuerbach (I will not detail them, but see page 75 if you are interested). The latter deals with how to use theory. Bell then outlines how later people follow or diverge from Marx in the use of practice, followed by a list of problems with how practice has been used (sometimes encourages slippage between levels of the argument, privileges terms afforded by positing fundamental oppositions which leads terms to become derivative, mediating role of practice can lead to synthesis of categories to be unstable and therefore not effective at mediation). Bell then gives the examples of Jameson, Bourdieu, and Ortner on practice, pointing out their limitations. She closes the section by suggesting that a theory of ritual practice should not construct a model of ritual practice but instead “describe the strategies of the ritualized act by deconstructing some of the intricacies of its cultural logic” (80-81).
Bell then outlines the features of practice, which include that it is situational, strategic, “embedded in a misrecognition of what it is in fact doing” (81), and “able to reproduce or reconfigure a vision of the order of power in the world, or what I will call ‘redemptive hegemony” (81). Situational refers to the fact that context is key, and an activity is not the same if taken out of or abstracted from the context. Strategic refers to the fact that there is a logic to practice, not an intellectualist logic, but still “a play of situationally effective schemes, tactics, and strategies” (82). Misrecognition is misrecognition of what a practice is doing: for example, Bourdieu describes gift giving as a practice which is really reciprocal exchange but what is experienced is a singular act of generosity. The last characteristic is the most complex, and “has to do with the motivational dynamics of agency, the will to act, which is also integral to the context of action” (83). Bell describes redemptive hegemony as a synthesis of Burridge’s “redemptive process” and Gramsci’s “hegemony.” She writes: “In sum, a redemptive hegemony is not an explicit ideology or a single and bounded doxa that defines a culture’s sense of reality. It is a strategic and practical orientation for acting, a framework possible only insofar as it is embedded in the act itself. As such, of course, the redemptive hegemony of practice does not reflect reality more or less effectively; it creates it more or less effectively. To analyze practice in terms of its vision of redemptive hegemony is, therefore, to formulate the unexpressed assumptions that constitute the actor’s strategic understanding of the place, purpose, and trajectory of the act” (85). Bell then compares redemptive hegemony to similar concepts like Althussor’s problematique (see 86-88), which highlights the extent to which there is a certain blindness to practice, it “does not see itself do what it actually does” (87).
In the last section, Bell returns directly to ritualization. After describing Gluckman’d and Huxley’s uses of the term, Bell describes her own, which emphasizes how practices that count as ritualization distinguish themselves from other practices and what such a distinction accomplishes. Two key concepts are relationality and differentiation. Ritualization derives its significance from its relation to other practices as well as from strategies that differentiate a ritualized practice from its “conventional counterparts” (90). The sacred and profane are also key categories: ritualization creates sacred by differentiating it from profane. There are common features to ritualization like fixity and repetition but there are no necessary, intrinsic features of ritualization. Instead, ritualization differs in different contexts, acting as “a practical way of dealing with some specific circumstances” (92). She concludes, “Hence, ritualization can be characterized in general only to a rather limited extent since the idiom of its differentiation of acting will be, for the most part, culturally specific” (93).
Summary of the problem: “With these objections [described in the summary above] an impasse appears to loom. On the one hand there is evidence that ritual acts are not a clear and closed category of social behavior. On the other hand many problems attend the attempt to see ritual as a dimension of all or many forms of social behavior” (74).
Approach: “Rather than impose categories of what is or is not ritual, it may be more useful to look at how human activities establish and manipulate their own differentiation and purposes—in the very doing of the act within the context of other ways of acting. With this approach in mind, I will use the term ‘ritualization’ to draw attention to the way in which certain social actions strategically distinguish themselves in relation to other actions. In a very preliminary sense, ritualization is a way of acting that is designed and orchestrated to distinguish and privilege what is being done in comparison to other, usually more quotidian, activities. As such, ritualization is a matter of various culturally specific strategies for setting some activities off from others, for creating and privileging a qualitative distinction between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane,’ and for ascribing such distinctions to realities thought to transcend the powers of human actors” (74).
Moving past other uses of practice that have failed: “Confronting the ritual act itself, and therein eschewing ritual as some object to be analyzed or some subjectivity to be fathomed, would involve asking how ritual activities, in their doing, generate distinctions between what is or is not acceptable ritual. From this perspective one could not seek to construct a theory or model of ritual practice. Rather one could attempt to describe the strategies of the ritualized act by deconstructing some of the intricacies of its cultural logic. This is the perspective that will be developed in the rest of Part II. This exploration of the distinctive strategies and cultural logic that lie behind ritual activities may also begin to illuminate the distinctive strategies of theoretical practices” (80-81).
Redemptive hegemony: “As a practical construal or consciousness of the system of power relations and as a framework for action, redemptive hegemony suggests that human practice is characterized by relations of dominance and subjugation. These relations, however, are preset in practice by means of the practical values, obligations, and persistent envisioning—as both an assumption and an extension of the system—of a state of prestige within this ordering of power. This vision exists as a practical consciousness of the world (common sense) and a sense of one’s options for social action. It is also a vision of empowerment tat is rooted in the actor’s perceptions and experiences of the organization of power. Although awkward, the term ‘redemptive hegemony’ denotes the way in which reality is experienced as a natural weave of constraint and possibility, the fabric of day-to-day dispositions and decisions experienced as a field for strategic action. Rather than an embracing ideological vision of the whole, it conveys a biased, nuanced rendering of the ordering of power so as to facilitate the envisioning of personal empowerment through activity in the perceived system” (84).
“In sum, a redemptive hegemony is not an explicit ideology or a single and bounded doxa that defines a culture’s sense of reality. It is a strategic and practical orientation for acting, a framework possible only insofar as it is embedded in the act itself. As such, of course, the redemptive hegemony of practice does not reflect reality more or less effectively; it creates it more or less effectively. To analyze practice in terms of its vision of redemptive hegemony is, therefore, to formulate the unexpressed assumptions that constitute the actor’s strategic understanding of the place, purpose, and trajectory of the act” (85).
Sacred and profane: “Whereas Durkheim defined religion and ritual as that which is addressed to the sacred, the approach presented here is an inverse of his, showing how a particular way of acting draws the types of flexible distinctions that yield notions and categories like ‘ritual’ or ‘religion.’ The relative clarity and flexibility of the boundaries, of course, are also a highly strategic matter in a particular cultural community and are best understood in terms of the concrete situation” (91).
Summary: The body is the focus of this chapter. Producing a ritualized body, one that has a “sense” of ritual and works to shape the sociocultural environment so that it has control, is the implicit ends of ritualization. Ritualization does so “through the interaction of the body with a structured and structuring environment” (98). A circular process takes place where ritualization, through interaction with the environment, produces a ritualized body and that body shapes the environment. The person involved misrecognizes this process: the person perceives that the values and experiences come from a place of power beyond the person and her ritual activity. In this process of ritualization, “the production of a ritualized agent via the interaction of a body within a structured and structuring environment” (100), the context is key though not completely determinative of the ritualized agent. However, even if one claims to repeat a ritual exactly as it has been done for thousands of years, no ritual is autonomous from its context.
Bell outlines three basic dynamics of ritualization strategies: binary oppositions, hierarchization, and “the generation of a loosely integrated whole in which each element ‘defers’ to another in an endlessly circular chain of reference” (101). Durkheim (sacred vs. profane), J.Z. Smith (ritual as “assertion of difference”), and others have highlighted the role of opposition in ritual; Bell points out, however, that the oppositions aren’t symmetric but create hierarchies based on asymmetries in the opposed terms (for example, right and left side of the body are not equal, as shown by Hertz). Sets of oppositions get linked together, generating whole systems of ritual symbols and actions (right/left linked to good/evil and inside/outside). Bell uses Derrida’s concept of difference to explain how oppositions do not find resolution by organization into hierarchies, but instead form a network of oppositions that nuance each other and deferred meanings. Such a network eludes resolution: “This process yields the sense of a loosely knit and loosely coherent totality, the full potential of which is never fully grasped and thus never fully subject to challenge or denial. One is never confronted with ‘the meaning’ to accept or reject; one is always led into a redundant, circular, and rhetorical universe of values and terms whose signification keeps flowing into other values and terms” (106). The ritualized environment can translate social problems into the terms of the ritual, not resolving them but diffusing them in this network. This is the “internal strategy” of ritualization.
The ritualized body produced in ritualization brings what it has come to possess during ritual into social life. Bell introduces the term “ritual mastery,” based on Bourdieu’s “practical mastery” (schemes for ordering the world used by social agents that come to be embodied during practice), to refer to practical mastery in the context of ritualization. Bell writes, “I use the term ‘ritual mastery’ to designate a practical mastery of the schemes of ritualization as an embodied knowing, as the sense of ritual seen in its exercise” (107). With the term, Bell emphasizes that ritual is not a static, existing object but something embodied in specific contexts through work. Ritual mastery involves a circularity, where a ritualized person uses ritualization schemes to affect non-ritualized parts of life and to make them more coherent with the ritualized. Along with circularity, ritualization also relies on constant deferral of meaning and purpose.
Part of this circularity is misrecognition, seeing and not seeing. Bell explains what ritualization sees: ritualization sees itself as the correct way of acting to respond to a particular context or situation. It does not see the extent to which “it redefines or generates the circumstances to which it is responding” (109). Bell further explains: “And yet what ritualization does is actually quite simple: it temporarily structures a space-time environment through a series of physical movements (using schemes described earlier), thereby producing an arena which, by its molding of the actors, both validates and extends the schemes they are internalizing. Indeed, in seeing itself as responding to an environment, ritualization interprets its own schemes as impressed upon the actors from a more authoritative source, usually from well beyond the immediate human community itself” (109-110). Related to seeing and not seeing is use of language and communicative function of ritual as well as the comparison of ritual to text, which are both controversial and differ widely between a range of theorists.
Bell concludes the chapter with a discussion of redemptive hegemony and misrecognition. The practice of ritualization has an object-unity characteristic that ritual mastery makes evident. The agents produced in ritualization experience and relate to the world through certain strategies. A sense of fit between the environment and the socialized body ensues. Furthermore, ritualization makes this coherence seem as if it is for the person or group, empowering them.
“The implicit dynamic and ‘end’ of ritualization—that which it does not see itself doing—can be said to be the production of a ‘ritualized body.’ A ritualized body is a body invested with a ‘sense’ of ritual. This sense of ritual exists as an implicit variety of schemes whose deployment works to produce sociocultural situations that the ritualized body can dominate in some way. This is a ‘practical mastery,’ to use Bourdieu’s term, of strategic schemes for ritualization, and it appears as a social instinct for creating and manipulating contrasts. This ‘sense’ is not a matter of self-conscious knowledge of any explicit rules of ritual but as an implicit ‘cultivated disposition.’ Ritualization produces this ritualized body through the interaction of the body with a structured and structuring environment. ‘It is in the dialectical relationship between the body and a space structured according to mythico-ritual oppositions,’ writes Bourdieu, ‘that one finds the form par excellence of the structural apprenticeship which leads to the em-bodying of the structures of the world, that is, the appropriating by the world of a body thus enabled to appropriate the world.’ Hence, through a series of physical movements ritual practices spatially and temporally construct an environment organized according to schemes of privileged oppositions. The construction of this environment and the activities within it simultaneously work to impress these schemes upon the bodies of participants. This is a circular process that tends to be misrecognized, if it is perceived at all, as values and experiences impressed upon the person and community from sources of power and order beyond it. Through the orchestration in time of loose but strategically organized oppositions, in which a few oppositions quietly come to dominate others, the social body internalizes the principles of the environment being delineated. Inscribed within the social body, these principles enable the ritualized person to generate in turn strategic schemes that can appropriate or dominate other sociocultural situations” (98-99).
“[R]itualization cannot be understood apart from the immediate situation, which is being reproduced in a misrecognized and transformed way through the production of ritualized agents” (100).
“[R]itualization not only involves the setting up of oppositions, but through the privileging built into such an exercise it generates hierarchical schemes to produce a loose sense of totality and systematicity. In this way, ritual dynamics afford an experience of ‘order’ as well as the ‘fit’ between this taxonomic order and the real world of experience” (104).
“What we might call the ‘external strategy’ of ritualization, the very drawing of a privileged distinction between its activities and others, parallels what can be called its ‘internal strategy,’ the generation of schemes of opposition, hierarchization, and deferral by which the body has impressed upon it the schemes that effect the distinctive privileging and differentiation of ritualizing acts themselves. This manner of producing a ritualized agent, as I will argue next, can be seen to be the basic and distinctive strategy of so-called ritual behavior” (106-7).
“Ritualization sees its end, the rectification of a problematic. It does not see what it does in the process of realizing this end, its transformation of the problematic itself. And yet what ritualization does is actually quite simple: it temporarily structures a space-time environment through a series of physical movements (using schemes described earlier), thereby producing an arena which, by its molding of the actors, both validates and extends the schemes they are internalizing. Indeed, in seeing itself as responding to an environment, ritualization interprets its own schemes as impressed upon the actors from a more authoritative source, usually from well beyond the immediate human community itself. Hence, through an orchestration in time of loosely and effectively homologized oppositions in which some gradually come to dominate others, the social body reproduces itself in the image of the symbolically schematized environment that has been simultaneously established” (109-110).
“Ritual does what it does through the privileged differentiations and deferred resolutions by which the ritualized body structures an environment, an environment that in turn impresses its highly nuanced structure on the bodies of those involved in the rite. Strategies, signification, and the experience of meaningfulness are found in the endless circularity of the references mobilized, during the course of which some differentiations come to dominate others. Ritual mastery is the ability—not equally shared, desired, or recognized—to (1) take and remake schemes from the shared culture that can strategically nuance, privilege, or transform, (2) deploy them in the formation of a privileged ritual experience, which in turn (3) impresses them in a new form upon agents able to deploy them in a variety of circumstances beyond the circumference of the rite itself” (116).
Summary: This chapter explores ritual traditions and systems in historical, territorial/calendrical, and organizational/expert-based dimensions. Bell first summarizes the way theorists have dealt with the relationship between tradition, continuity, and change, pointing out that several scholars suggest a flexibility or oral culture and rigidity of written culture; also, ritual can be fixed activities and also have aspects that adapt. Bell suggests, as others have too, that these conclusions miss the fact that ritual can construct tradition (example: Bloch’s concept of formalization of speech to form an oratory code). Constructed tradition is key to community identity formation; such construction from ritual is a powerful strategy based on authoritative precedents and perceptions of consensus on historically rooted values. Bell emphasizes that tradition is not static but is “constantly produced and reproduced, pruned for a clear profile, and softened to absorb revitalizing elements” (123). Ritual is not just blind reenactment of ritual precedent but is subject to constant reinterpretation and renegotiation.
Groups across spatial territories are also linked through systems of ritual practice, built from “a complex orchestration of standard binary oppositions [including vertical, horizontal, and central/local oppositions] that generate flexible sets of relationships both differentiating and integrating activities, gods, sacred places, and communities vis-à-vis each other” (125). These oppositions differentiate and integrate communities, largely based on ritual activities being organized temporally either to differentiate or synchronize groups. Bell emphasizes that ritual systems do not just control social systems, but constitute those systems.
The ritual specialists section is based, in large part, on Weber’s theory of rationalization, whereby different forms of religious authority (magician, priest, charismatic prophet) come with increasing rationality. Marxists built on this theory, tying rationalization to development of institutions with specialists, reducing the need for public ritual. Goody reanalyzes Weber in terms of writing, missing oral societies. Bell lists several common features to ritual specialists, including authority resting on importance of ritual for creating networks of people and the supernatural; stabilization and control of religious power; and ranking ritual activities in importance, which is a dynamic and ambivalent process. Bell then discusses orality and literacy, and the different strategies of ritualization each entails. Authority in oral societies is based on memory, seniority, and practical expertise while in written societies it is based on access to texts (136). Textual traditions have the challenge or reconciling the past with the present textual tradition—changes must somehow be sanctioned, which enhances authority of the interpreters. Textual traditions are also often connected with the assertion of universal values instead of the local. Bell then suggests that Weber’s model of inevitable rationalization. She concludes by reflecting on the framework of ritualization (see below, 140-141).
“Ritual can be a strategic way to ‘traditionalize,’ that is, to construct a type of tradition, but in doing so it can also challenge and renegotiate the very basis of tradition to the point of upending much of what had been seen as fixed previously or by other groups. […] As with the invented traditions described by Hobsbawn and Ranger, various attempts in American society in the last two decades to create new rituals deemed more appropriately symbolic and representative involve renegotiating a repertoire of acknowledged ways of acting ritually. Such innovations may be subtle or dramatic; they may radically reappropriate traditional elements or give a very different significance to standard activities; they may overturn meanings completely through invented practices. The continuity, innovation, and oppositional contrasts established in each case are strategies that arise from the ‘sense of ritual’ played out under particular conditions—not in a fixed ritual structure, a closed grammar, or an embalmed historical model” (124).*
“It is important to emphasize a conclusion implicit in the many examples cited so far: ritual systems do not function to regulate or control the systems of social relations’, they are the system, and an expedient rather than perfectly ordered one at that. In other words, the more or less practical organization of ritual activities neither acts upon nor reflects the social system; rather, these loosely coordinated activities are constantly differentiating and integrating, establishing and subverting the field of social relations. Hence, such expedient systems of ritualized relations are not primarily concerned with ‘social integration’ alone, in the Durkheimian sense. Insofar as they establish hierarchical social relations, they are also concerned with distinguishing local identities, ordering social differences, and controlling the contention and negotiation involved in the appropriation of symbols” (130).
“These examples suggest that textualization is not an inevitable linear process of social evolution, as Weber’s model of rationalization may seem to imply. The dynamic interaction of texts and rites, reading and chanting, the word fixed and the word preached are practices, not social developments of a fixed nature and significance. As practices, they continually play of each other to renegotiate tradition, authority, and the hegemonic order. As practices, they invite and expect the strategic counterplay” (140).
“I have not proposed a new theory of ritual because I believe that a new theory of ritual, by definition, would do little to solve the real conundrums that the study of ritual has come up against. Instead, I have proposed a new framework within which to reconsider traditional questions about ritual. In this framework, ritual activities are restored to their rightful context, the multitude of ways of acting in a particular culture. When put in the context of purposive activity with all the characteristics of human practice (strategy, specificity, misrecognition, and redemptive hegemony), a focus on ritual yields to a focus on ritualization. Ritualization, the production of ritualized acts, can be described, in part, as that way of acting that sets itself off from other ways of acting by virtue of the way in which it does what it does. Even more circularity, it can be described as the strategic production of expedient schemes that structure an environment in such a way that the environment appears to be the source of the schemes and their values. Ritualizing schemes invoke a series of privileged oppositions that, when acted in space and time through a series of movements, gestures, and sounds, effectively structure and nuance an environment. In the organization of this environment some oppositions quietly dominate others but all also defer to others in a redundantly circular, and hence nearly infinite, chain of associations. The coherence, continuity, and general scope of these associations naturalize the values expressed in the subtle relationships established among oppositions. This environment, constructed and reconstructed by the actions of the social agents within it, provides an experience of the objective reality of the embodied subjective schemes that have created it. Ritualization as a strategic way of acting does not see the social agent’s projection of this environment or his or her reembodiment of the sets of schemes constitutive of it. When these schemes are embodied in a cultural sense of reality and possibility, the agent is capable of interpreting and manipulating simply by reclassifying the very relationships understood as constitutive of reality. The goal of ritualization is a strategic way of acting ritualization of social agents. Ritualization endows these agents with some degree of ritual mastery. This mastery is an internalization of schemes with which they are capable of reinterpreting reality in such a way as to afford perceptions and experiences of a redemptive hegemonic order. Ritualization always aligns one within a series of relationship linked to the ultimate sources of power. Whether ritual empowers or disempowers one in some practical sense, it always suggests the ultimate coherence of a cosmos in which one takes a particular place. This cosmos is experienced as a chain of states or an order of existence that places one securely in a field of action and in alignment with the ultimate goals of all action. Ritualization is probably an effective way of acting only under certain cultural circumstances” (140-141).
“Part I addressed the basic question, What is ritual? Part II, How does ritual do what we say it does? This third part engages yet another fundamental query: When and why do the strategies of ritualization appear to be the appropriate or effective thing to do?” (169).
“In brief, it is my general thesis here that ritualization, as a strategic mode of action effective within certain social orders, does not, in any useful understanding of the words, ‘control’ individuals or society. Yet ritualization is very much concerned with power. Closely involved with the objectification and legitimation of an ordering of power as an assumption of the way things really are, ritualization is a strategic arena for the embodiment of power relations. Hence, the relationship of ritualization and social control may be better approached in terms of how ritual activities constitute a specific embodiment and exercise of power” (170).
Summary: This chapter outlines the theories of ritual and social control coming out of Durkheim. There are four theses: “the social solidarity thesis, the channeling of conflict thesis, the repression thesis, and definition of reality thesis” (171). The solidarity thesis, characteristic of the work of Robertson Smith, Evans-Pritchard, Fortes, and Munn, “suggests that ritual exercises control through its promotion of consensus and the psychological and cognitive ramifications of such consensus” (171). Stephen Lukes critiques this position for not adequately dealing with political rituals. The second thesis is forwarded by Gluckman and Victor Turner, who argue that ritual is a way to deal with conflict and restore social equilibrium. She critiques this position for viewing individuals as entirely under group control. People in the Turner-Gluckman have also added a psychological focus. The third thesis deals with repression of human violence and aggression and is characteristic of Burkert, Girard, and Heesterman. The last thesis, the one that Bell thinks is best but still problematic, is the definition of reality thesis of Geertz, T. Turner, Douglas, and Lukes. Instead of ritual acting to control, it models society: “[P]roponents of the definition of reality thesis seek to find in ritual a single central mechanism for the communication of culture, the internalization of values, and the individual’s cognitive perception of a universe that generally fits these valies” (176). Bell appreciates the “more subtle understanding of social control” (176) but critiques that it treats “rite as a nearly magical mechanism of social alchemy by which the irksomeness of human experience is transformed into the desirable, the unmentionable, or the really real” (176). While this theory does recognize that there are not such clear cut differences between primitive and modern societies, she emphasizes that context is essential, and not all groups’ rituals can be described by the same theories, which the theory does not deal with adequately.
Bell closes the chapter by outlining the relationship between ritualized activities and modes of social organization. She is particularly focused on Douglas’ theory, which emphasizes that ritual works for social control effectively in some but not all societies (those that are closed groups, have restricted communication codes, emphasis on hierarchical social position, and a system based on social consensus). Bell critiques her for emphasizing the difference between social and physical bodies. Bell also raises V. Turner’s body-centered thesis and Valeri’s intellectualist thesis, which contrast Douglas’ functionalist thesis. The latter two are noteworthy for their recognition is more complex than simple Durkheimian affect.
“In the sections that follow I will work out an alternative interpretation of the social functions of ritual, namely, how the strategies of ordering and reproduction embodied through ritualization relate to the larger questions of the organization of power relations in a society. Hence, I will attempt to demonstrate that ritual does not control; rather, it constitutes a particular dynamic of social empowerment” (181).
Summary: Bell first addresses the question, what is belief? She lays out a range of theoretical work on belief and its relation to ritual, discussing whether it is social or mental and the extent to which communities share beliefs and symbolic meanings associated with ritual (Fernandez suggests suggests communities do not share common meanings of symbols, thus ritual is not a means to communicate common meanings). Bell then discusses what symbols do: many analyses suggest that symbols serve a purpose of creating solidarity and community integration. Bell emphasizes how the literature points to ambiguity of symbolism, as well as the instability of religious beliefs. She also points to research that notes that systematic formulations of beliefs suggest no cohesion but stratification. She concludes, “These studies give evidence for the ambiguity and instability of beliefs and symbols as well as the inability of ritual to control by virtue of any consensus based on shared beliefs. They also suggest that ritualized activities specifically do not promote belief or conviction. On the contrary, ritualized practices afford a great diversity of interpretation in exchange for little more than consent to the form of the activities. This minimal consent actually contrasts with the degree of conviction frequently required in more day-to-day activities…” (186). Yet, other literature shows that “ritual has an important social function with regard to inculcating belief” (186).
Bell turns next to ideology. There are two definitions of ideology, one that is akin to a cultural worldview (critiqued for implying a one dominant ideology in a society, holism) and the other is ideas promoted by the dominant classes for self-interest (criticized by asking, why would people who do not benefit buy into this?). Rejecting the holism of these definitions of ideology, Merquior draws on Gramsci’s notion of consent and negotiation: subordinate classes negotiate and accept a negotiated version of dominant values. Bourdieu argues that the subordinate classes’ acceptance is based on misrecognition of values, where the subordinate class thinks the values are good for them. Ideologies are practices where people (active agents) struggle and negotiate as opposed to a set of ideas; according to Merquior, Thompson, and Bourdieu ideology is a strategy of power.
The final section is on legitimation. Ritual is a powerful tool for legitimation, especially when power is understood as more than brute force or threats of violence. There are three main points out of Geertz, Cannadine, and Bloch with respect to rituals of legitimation: such rituals draw on traditional symbols in a way that distinguishes the current from what preceded; ritual constructs an argument; political rituals do not refer to but in fact are politics.
“In the following sections I will argue that the projection and embodiment of schemes in ritualization is more effectively viewed as a ‘mastering’ of relationships of power relations within an arena that affords a negotiated appropriation of the dominant values embedded in the symbolic schemes. To analyze the relationship of ritualization to belief, therefore, I will focus on the tension and struggle involved in this negotiated appropriation, rather than on the production of doctrines neatly internalized as assumptions about reality” (182).
“Complicity, struggle, negotiation—these terms all aim to rethink ideology as a lived and practical consciousness, as a partial and oppositional process actively constructed by all involved and taking place in the very organization of everyday life. Hence, ideology is not a coherent set of ideas, statements, or attitudes imposed on people who dutifully internalize them. Nor are societies themselves a matter of unitary social systems or totalities that act as one. Any ideology is always in dialogue with, and thus shaped and constrained by, the voices it is suppressing, manipulating, echoing. In other words, ideologies exist only in concrete historical forms in specific relations to other ideologies” (191).
Although each pursues independent analyses, Merquior, J.B. Thompson, and Bourdieu similarly conclude that ideology is best understood as a strategy of power, a process whereby certain social practices or institutions are depicted to be ‘natural’ and ‘right.’ While such a strategy implies the existence of a group or groups whose members stand to gain in some way by an acceptance of these practices, it also implies the existence of some form of opposition. Thus, ideologization may imply an unequal distribution of power, but it also indicates a greater distribution of power than would exist in relationships defined by sheer force. It is a strategy intimately connected with legitimation, discourse, and fairly high degrees of social complicity and maneuverability” (192-3).
“In sum, it is a major reversal of traditional theory to hypothesize that ritual activity is not the ‘instrument’ of more basic purposes, such as power, politics, or social control, which are usually seen as existing before or outside the activities of the rite. It puts interpretive analysis on a new footing to suggest that ritual practices are themselves the very production and negotiation of power relations. In the following chapter I will attempt to demonstrate this alternative position more fully by showing how ritualization as a strategic mode of practice produces nuanced relationships of power, relationships characterized by acceptance and resistance, negotiated appropriation, and redemptive reinterpretation of the hegemonic order” (196).
Summary: Bell begins with a discussion of the term power, which is understood as influence or as force, the former “inherent, nonspecific, and inherent” and the latter “intentional, specific, and threatening” (197). The distinction between symbolic and secular power is also made, the former relating to ritual and ideology and the latter to institutions. Bell traces discussions of power from Hobbes to Lukes (who writes of three dimensions of power); another lineage of discussions of power runs from Machiavelli to Foucault, the latter being the dominant voice Bell discusses in the chapter. Bell emphasizes Foucault’s theories of power as local, working indirectly on actions, embedded in networks of relations, and exercised on those who are free and who can resist. Bell also clarifies Foucault’s use of the term ritual with respect to power. Bell explains, “‘Ritual’ is one of several words he uses to indicate formalized, routinized, and often supervised practices that mold the body” (201). She also emphasizes the importance of the body as a site of local social practices meeting large-scale institutions. She also discusses power relations and how they act in the social body for Foucault. Bell concludes, “The language of this analytics of power…enables us to begin to answer the question of this chapter: Under what general conditions is ritualization an effective social strategy? It is in ritual—as practices that act upon the actions of others, as the mute interplay of complex strategies within a field structured by engagements of power, as the arena for prescribed sequences of repetitive movements of the body that simultaneously constitute the body, the person, and the macro- and micronetworks of power—that we can see a fundamental strategy of power. In ritualization, power is not external to its workings; it exists only insofar as it is constituted with and through the lived body, which is both the body of society and the social body. Ritualization is a strategic play of power, of domination and resistance, within the arena of the social body” (204).
What are the effects and limits of ritual empowerment? Ritualization cannot be defined universally, but is about placing different limits and using different culturally specific strategies to differentiate activities that are ritualized from activities that are not. Ritualization entails the acting out of power relations, whose limits are defined by context. Bell explains two dimensions of ritualization. The first is “the dynamics of the social body, its projection and embodiment of a structured environment” that happens “below the level of discourse” and which goes on without agents recognizing their participation. The second is a level at which those who appear to be disempowered are actually empowered by ritualization through “consent, resistance, and negotiated appropriation” (207). Bell concludes by outlining four perspectives on how ritual strategies create situations of domination and resistance: ritual empowering people with various degrees of control of a rite, how their power is constrained, how those who participate are dominated, and how domination can also lead to empowerment. She ends by writing, “The variety of evidence examined here has attempted to demonstrate that ritualization necessitates and engenders both consent and resistance. It does not assume or implement total social control; it is a flexible strategy, one that requires complicity to the point of public consent, but not much more than that. Ultimately, the resistance it addresses and produces is not merely a limit on the rite’s ability to control; it is also a feature of its efficacy. It is not totally inappropriate, or unexpected, that the end of this exploration of ritual should return to one of the original questions with which it began, however altered the relationship with it may be. In Part I of this book I demonstrated the coherent, closed, and circular discourse that results when ritual is cast as a mechanism for the integration of thought and action, or self and society. In this final part I find a coherent and circular closing in the suggestion that ritual practices themselves can generate the culturally effective schemes that yield the categories with which to differentiate self and society, thought and action. This is not to say that ritualization is the only form of practice that defines the self. Hardly. It is that form of practice where the definition is simultaneously embedded in the social body and its environment, negotiated, and rendered prestigious by the privileged status that ritualized activities claim” (218). She concludes by reiterating her main arguments about ritual as a form of activity that relies on strategies to render certain ritual activities distinct, relies on the body which is shaped by and shapes the environment, and generates traditions, and defines, empowers, and constrains agents.
“The argument of this chapter is essentially a simple one: ritualization is first and foremost a strategy for the construction of certain types of power relationships effective within particular social organizations. I will attempt to develop a fuller description of the strategy of ritualization in order to return to the question with which Part III began, Why and when is ritualization an appropriate and effective way of acting? This question and its answer should be understood as an alternative to the view that ritual is a functional mechanism or expressive medium in the service of social solidarity and control. A focus on activity itself as the framework within which to understand ritual activity illuminates the complex nature of power relations” (197).
“The evocation of ritualizing strategies by activities that do not wish to be considered religious ritual is a very common feature particularly in the secularism of American society” (205).
“The deployment of ritualization, consciously or unconsciously, is the deployment of a particular construction of power relationships, a particular relationship of domination, consent, and resistance. As a strategy of power, ritualization has both positive and effective aspects as well as specific limits to what it can do and how far it can extend” (206).