artigos e ensaios - 2000 / Mariza Peirano

The anthropological analysis of rituals

Since theoretical refinement in the social sciences is not linear but spiraled, appropriations from the past are frequently used as heuristic means for present analysis. This fact does not derive from intellectual nostalgia, or from a fascination with previous theories, nor from the idealization of their explicative power but rather because, revisited, these theories reveal unexpected aspects in their re-combination that, then as now, make them contemporary products. Sociological theories have links with the empirical reality in which they are generated but they are not determined by it; the relative autonomy of sociological theories make them at the same time ephemeral and continuous.

My proposal in this essay is that the study of rituals, a classic topic of anthropology since Durkheim, takes on a special theoretical meaning and, less obviously, a political one, when transplanted from past studies to the modern world. In this transposition, the focus previously directed to a type of phenomenon considered non-routine and specific, usually of a religious character, is enlarged and expanded in order to privilege events that, while still acknowledging their socially given attributes as special phenomena, depart from the classic ritual studies due to their purposive and probabilistic aspects. I will return to this point later. Now, it is sufficient to mention that in the analysis of events, the basic instruments of the analysis of rituals are maintained but their implications are reoriented and expanded.

Five sections make up this essay: the first discusses the topic of magic and science as propelling anthropological theory at the beginning of the century; the second section refers to the contrast between myths and rites (and the positive and negative aspects of this dichotomy); the third deals with the topic of social efficacy and focuses on the performative approach to the analysis of rituals; the fourth links rituals and events by means of the relationship between culture and language; and the fifth examines in detail Stanley Tambiah's book Leveling Crowds, published in 1996. An epilogue divided in two short sections focuses on the relationship between events, chances and coincidences, and the choice between writing stories or analyzing events in the context of (the politics of) contemporary theory.Leia na íntegra...