Ritualisation

"Ritualisation is now frequently the preferred term particularly for studies focusing on ritual in technologically advanced societies"52

We will analyse the basic principles of ritualisation in the following subchapter. This is necessary to understand the performative dimension in the staging of the seasonal sales better. We will see that ritual theory provides fundamental insights into the

49 Karmasin (1998:290)*.

50 Example taken from Karmasin (1998:398-303). This commercial is presented like a storyboard with text, which normally serves as the basis for deciding whether it will be produced or not.

51 Douglas (2000:7).

Death of complex dramatisation strategy of the seasonal sale window. The intuitive images, which will be described later, relate to ritualisation and play a vital role in it. Ronald L. Grimes edited a reader on ritual studies in 1982, which was a compendium of knowledge from various disciplines.53 Marketing literature, for example, merely switched the terms, replacing ritual studies with trend research. It has explained the trend as ritual and projected properties assigned to rituals onto the phenomenon of the trend.54 It has been argued that trends are the rituals of our civilisation based on the observation that cult, ritual and fetish emerge as fundamental to our social life.55 Arguments claiming that trends are symbolically condensed, dramatised, definitive, and collective instead of individual inventions help in lending the term "trend" a more meaningful and deeply rooted connotation to better understand the way trends work. The same holds true of several other debates on everyday behaviour that desire to assert greater importance by using the term 'ritual' in the wrong context. However, there can only be an interdisciplinary approach to the ritual as a phenomenon.56

"In a very preliminary sense, ritualisation 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, ritualisation is a matter of various culturally specific strategies for setting some activities off from others, for creating and privileging a quantitative distinction between the "sacred" and the "profane" and for ascribing such distinctions to realities thought to transcend the power of human actors."57

Rituals separate the profane from the sacred. Sacred does not mean religious, but as apart of the everyday. We now return to the seasonal sale, a period different to the one preceding or following it. During the sales period, merchandise is neither offered at its normal price nor is presented in its usual everyday dramatisation of beauty. The materialisation differs significantly in its aesthetic appearance as the ugly. Can this be the first sign indicating the ritual nature of the seasonal sales? Several categories have been extracted from the observation of ritual

53 See also Grimes (1996) with a comprehensive collection of influential contributions to ritual studies from religious studies to marketing.

54 Bolz/Bosshart (1995:47)

56 Belliger/Krieger (1998:8)

actions. Catherine Bell pointed out that these are not universal features, but rather help in differentiating and privileging particular activities.58 Firstly, there are codes of communication which can be summarised as the formalities of movement and speech. The second feature is the involvement of distinct and specialised personnel. The third one is the periodical occurrence of ritualisation. The orchestration of activities is the fourth feature, which deals with the interaction of individuals. Some features, however, require materialisation in the form of space and objects. Ritualisation takes place in structured space, which usually entails restricted access. This necessitates preparations in both the physical and mental states. Ultimately, objects, texts or dresses used only in the ritualised context are brought into play. Axel Michaels has contributed a set of five categories to the contest between ritual theories. Only when all of them become certifiable does he speak of a ritual.59 The first category is a causal transition. The second is the need for a formally articulated intention followed by the need for formal criteria of enactment, such as formality, publicity and finality. Fourthly, rituals are constituted through the subjective impression, transcendent (or what he calls "religio" here) experience and the creation of ritual fellowship. The last criterion is the change of identity, status, competence and role within society.60 There are some correspondences in the argumentations, formal practice being among those shared by many others. The formality of movement and speech is a widely shared indicator for the classification of rituals. It results from the consensual interplay between two or more persons that is repeated in recurrent contexts, creating adaptive value for those who are involved.61 Ritual practice is a kind of behaviour that is clearly separable from that of the everyday. Human beings have the ability to distinguish between and act of movement and action when the person adds intention to the movement.62 Ritual is recognisable as well, but there is no personal intention in its enactment:

I "Action is ritualized if the acts of which it is composed are

59 Michaels (2001) is convinced about the existence of the autonomous ritual action, while Bell (1992) only acknowledges ritualised actions. Such divergent viewpoints lead to a different use of terms (ritual/ritualisation) and, in the case of Michaels, an emphasis on a "transcendental" purpose of the ritual, which can be either religious or sacral. We do not favour either of the two, but agree with Michaels that it does not make sense to call every routine action a ritual (like brushing teeth). See Michaels (2001:29).

60 Michaels (2001:29).

61 See Bell (1997:32) on this neo-functional approach, which is related to ritualisation also found in the social lives of animals

62 Weber (1978:4). "Actions" are personally motivated, "social action" is motivated by the social relevance of the action

Death of constituted not by the intentions which the actor has in performing them, but by prior stipulation. We thus have a class of acts in which the intentions which normally serve to identify acts, that is to say, intentions in action, are discounted"63

Normally this can be directly applied to the interaction between people, but we will have to further develop this point in the case of the seasonal sale. The reason for this is that the show window, which is our primary subject, does not allow any direct interaction between the sales persons and the customers. Usually, the fashion show window has mannequins, which mediate between what has been selected by the shop and the passer-by. It is a kind of one-way communication with the passers-by, showing them the latest trend according to the personal taste of the window dresser. As we know, there are no limits today to being creative in the show window. Window dressing today is discussed as a kind of applied art.64 We have already mentioned that the show window is different during the sales, but nothing within the shop indicates that the sales people interact differently during the sales. Nor is there any indication of the fact that the act of selecting items and buying them is significantly different during the sales period, although this is an important criterion in literature dealing with the ritual. Because of the reduction in prices, there are many, but by no means all, for whom the seasonal sale is a major factor in their general shopping strategy.65 What then makes us conclude that the seasonal sale could be a kind of ritual although the interaction among the people is the same as usual? And how can categories applied to discuss human interaction be applied to this phenomenon as well, even though the direct interaction between salespeople and customers is still the same as during the year? Salespeople do not use a specific language or move in a special way. Customers come in and select an item, try it on, buy it, and leave. Nothing special. There are times when they argue because they cannot find their size or preferred colour, but they are used to it anyway. This is normal during the sales and customers are prepared for it. The last quoted argument concerns the intention of the persons involved. They do not act out of conviction, but in a given and predetermined way. In the case

63 Humphrey/Laidlaw (1994:97).

64 We are quoting a widespread belief here, without going into the problematic term "applied art"

65 Miller (1998a:55).

of the show window, the interaction takes place between the window dresser, as the person responsible for the materialisation of the seasonal sale animation, and the passer-by, who is the recipient of the message transmitted through the medium of the decorated window. This one-way communication is no hindrance in relating our case to ritual constructions in general. Maybe the attitudes of the shoppers change as well, and this would be an important argument for the indication of a ritual construction in studies more focused on the human interaction than on the aspect of materialisation.66 If we transfer the argument of not doing what each of us would like to do to the design of the seasonal sale window, it would prompt the window designer to follow an aesthetic plan that is not in keeping with his individual ideas. The window dresser would no longer express his individual ideas but would merely pretend to design. We will take this argument as a hypothesis and make a note of it for our discussion. If we speak of the seasonal sale as a ritual, we will find that it does not provide any instructions for acting that are not motivated by the actors themselves. Ritual attitude accepts that we are not ourselves the authors of what we are doing,67 a strange perspective of the creative people involved in the process of merchandising.68 Another widely shared argument is that rituals have a transitional function.69 This criterion also marks out the ceremony, which has some formal criteria in common with the ritual. While rituals transform, ceremonies have the function to indicate.70 The fashion year is basically divided into two seasons. In terms of time, the seasonal sale is a transition between the seasons when shops stop selling the past fashion and want to get rid of their stock and the arrival of the new collection. As the event takes place at the same time every year, traditional ritual studies could call it a calendar rite.71 Consumer culture has constructed a method of structuring time in a society less and less orientated to nature but to the consumption of consumer goods. It is no longer nature that structures our year, but the nature of the production of fashion items. Roland Barthes argued that when we look at special categories of fashion items we can see that they transform from one season to the next:

66 Humphrey/Laidlaw (1994:97) emphasise the importance of the ritual attitude of the persons involved in rituals

67 Humphrey/Laidlaw (1994:98).

68 Especially in a creative world full of star authors

69 Wiedenmann (1991:14)

70 Turner (1982:80).

71 Calendar rites have the important social function of structuring time, whereby they also stablise our perception of time. It is not our aim to categorise our case study in this way.

Death of

"There is, however, one point in the general system of fashion where the structure is penetrated by 'doing' which remains included in it (therein lies its importance); this point is what Fashion calls the transformation (the summer dustcoat which will become the autumn raincoat); a rather modest notion, but one to which we will attach an exemplary value insofar as it represents a certain solution to the conflict which constantly sets the order of transitive behaviour in opposition to that of signs"72

Transformation is described here as immanent to the structure of designing garments. We will not discuss this micro-level although, in the context of the show window, it could contain evidence for a larger scale materialisation of this argument.73 Albert Bergesen provides a hierarchical model of ritual construction. According to him, we find on the smallest scale rituals that are based on language, rituals he calls micro-rites. The second level of rites is related to social interaction. These are rites with functions related to social roles and status. The largest among these are the macro-rites, which can be compared to formal ceremonies. Independent occasions are often the content of such rituals, occasions that can also be related to smaller social systems.74 The smallest rite in this hierarchy is based on language. Also Barthes bases his analysis on the language of fashion. If we assume a connection between what Barthes found out by analysing the structure of fashion's language and the rules on which rites based on lingual patterns are constructed, we have the micro level of our seasonal sale ritual. According to Bergesen, there are deep relations between the different scales of rites:

"The Ritual Order is a hierarchical order. It is more than just separate kinds of ritual, for the three types of ritual nest within each other like smaller to larger kitchen pots. The Ritual Order, like any social order, has a structural integrity that is not visible unless all the rites are viewed in the interconnected totality"75

If we accept this, we can assume that the lingual level of transforming garments from one season to another on the basis

72 Barthes (2000:291).

73 The fashion item itself is not the subject of this analysis

74 Bergesen (1999:163).

75 Bergesen (1999:182)

of regular "ritualisation" in the fashion magazines can be structurally linked to larger-scale rituals as well. We will define the shopping streets during the sales period as such a dramatisation of a macro-ritual. The motif of transition, described by Barthes as the inner structure of the fashion system, can be thus argued as a motif of the macro ritual. In this sense, we fulfil the argument of transformation as an important category of rituals. In the micro-rite, each item is transformed into the new trend by describing its new features by means of language. In the bigger, more abstract, macro-rite of the show window, the whole collection of the previous season is in the process of being transformed into the new collection. This transformation is independent of the current trend and the individual characteristics of each garment. Another aspect of the ritual hierarchy is the social effect of the rites in relation to scale. While micro-rites have a small audience, the audience of the macro rituals is large. This is also true of the transition of fashion from one season to another. Indeed, fashion magazines address fewer people with the lingual transformation of the fashion items than the seasonal sale windows do on the scale of the city.76 Regardless of whether the fashion victims or the people are totally disinterested in fashion trends, the change of fashion is obvious for everyone. Rites that fulfil the purpose of transformation have been called rites of passage. These rites of passage transform one state into another, in our case, one seasonal collection into the next. Arnold van Gennep pointed out the original importance of such passages:

"Because of the importance of these transitions, I think it legitimate to single out rites of passage as a special category, which under further analysis may be subdivided into rites of separation, transition rites, and rites of incorporation. These three sub-categories are not developed to the same extent by all peoples or in every ceremonial pattern"77

It is thus quite possible that these three stages could be found in the show window as well if the seasonal sale were to follow the structure of a rite of passage. Van Gennep pointed out that such rites of passage are documented in relation to the change of the seasons as well. The death of winter and the

76 According to the statistics of the Viennese Chamber of Commerce, Department of City Planning (December 2002), about 35.000 people pass the windows in Vienna's shopping street Mariahilfer Stra├če on a normal weekday.

Death of rebirth of spring are examples of such rites of passage.78 These rites have been very important in agrarian societies, which depend on the rebirth of vegetation in spring. The physical inevitabilities have thus been transformed into cultural regularities.79 The people whose lives were dependent on the rebirth of vegetation have handled their fear successfully by enacting the rites of passage every year. Has the fashion industry in our consumer culture taken on the function of performing the seasonal rites of passage? In our example of the show windows, we have already described the immanent potential of a crisis, which is caused when the past collection is declared as no longer fashionable through the inauguration of the new collection and the dramatic change of value caused by the drop in price from one day to the next. Ritualised action has often been used to deal with crisis.80 We could assume that the dramatisation of the ritual of the sale prepares the path for dealing with this crisis. After the sales, the rites of passage stablise the new reality of what is new and what is old and outdated. The ancient fear of the periodical return of vegetation with renewed strenth has been replaced by the fear of the periodical return of the new fashion trend in our consumer society.81 The way rituals communicate is essentially symbolic in nature. Umberto Eco described humans as symbolic beings and rituals as symbolic forms.82 In ritual theory, we can find numerous definitions that refer to the symbolic nature of rituals:

"Rituals are the active forms of symbols. Although these are social actions, they are oriented to others, or beyond that even aimed at these: oriented to others that basically cannot be immediately experienced and belong to a different area of reality than the one inhabited by the everyday, by the agent"83

This means that a world outside our everyday world exists. Symbolic communication is directed into this other world, but it is not a communication between different realities. Both worlds unite during ritual practice. Clifford Geertz argued that during a ritual the world we live in and the world we imagine are one

79 Bell (1997:94)

80 Turner (1982:92).

81 This does not mean that the trend is a ritual. This only means that there is the need for a ritual in dealing with the seasonal change of fashion trends.

83 Luckmann (1999:12)*

and the same, melted into one system of symbolic forms.84 If the seasonal sale window is such a symbolic system, then the imagined world of a regular change of fashion becomes, by symbolic means, part of our everyday reality at that point of time. Economic needs in our consumer culture become social reality by means of symbolic communication through secular rituals. An important aspect of such symbolic communication is the performative dimension.

"[...] symbolic forms of expression simultaneously make assumptions about the way things really are, create the sense of reality, and act upon the real world as it is culturally experienced. The performative dimension of ritual action has become a central idea in most current theories of ritual."85

Performances are actions, and performance studies take these actions as their object of study.86 The term performance, which was in the beginning a technical term in the theory of speech acts, has transformed into an umbrella term for cultural studies and the research of phenomenological conditions of embodiment.87 Heuristic and contingent use of the term ritual has been criticised and rejected in the field of anthropology.88 The seasonal sale window may not be appropriate for an exemplary discussion about these varying points of view. However, performative aspects restricted to the decoration of the window and the mannequins inside it are a special case and must be dealt with separately. For the time being incapable of moving, mannequins are forced to represent the symbolic messages without movement.89 The gestures of these mannequins can only be altered by changing their position within the show window. Most often, the figure's technical construction prevents its posture from being changed so that it usually remains fixed in one posture. The possibilities of changing the angle of the head, the arms and the orientation of the torso are thus limited. The performative aspect of the scenario can only be imagined and the physical representation can be interpreted as a frozen performance, like a photo of a ritual. But the symbolic aspect of the window

84 Geertz (1973:112)

86 Schechner (2003:1)

88 Hughes-Freeland (1998:1).

89 Maybe this will change in the future. All we can do is wait and see how these sales robots will be programmed in a symbolic manner.

Death of display can also be expressed very effectively without any real movement of the bodies because we are used to interpreting the symbolic meaning of the dressed body. Bell defined the dressed body as being one among the many possible features of ritualisation.90 We will therefore take a look at the dress code in the seasonal sale window in order to find out what kind of symbolic communication is used to separate the dramatisation of the rite of passage from the everyday representation of up-to-date fashion items. This takes us to the orchestration of activities, which is yet another feature of ritualisation. As no law stipulates when the seasonal sale may start, the shops take their own decisions about the beginning and the end of the sales animation. We discovered that such orchestrations of sales animation can be found within a single shopping street in the observed cities. While some shops start their animations sooner than others, there are shops that stop the sales and introduce the new collection sooner than others, all of them usually dedicate their merchandising activities to the seasonal sale. This orchestration of activities, which, in another context, may be projected onto people taking part in a ritualised action, can be applied here to the orchestrated decoration of fashion shops. The orchestration of merchandising produces strong visual impressions, an orchestration that can also be studied in major consumer culture rituals like Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Christmas. All of them employ strategies of symbolic communication. Especially Christmas has a strong impact on the appearance of the show windows. While during the year shops are decorated in a way that makes them look different from their neighbours, decorations during the big events seem more similar and orchestrated. In order to stage the Christmas animation, window dressers may not use their own specific theme. As discussed earlier, ritual activities do not allow individual expression. The orchestration of activities finds its visual equivalent in the dramatisation of ritualised shopping in the show window by using commonly shared signs. The Christmas tree, the use of decoration elements, snow scenes, the display of presents, are all examples of commonly shared associations with Christmas. Window dressers will not succeed in inventing an own and individual symbolism for a collective event; only the interpretation of signs can be individual and used in an artistic manner. Structured space may thus be an

90 Bell (1992:204)

interesting aspect for our investigation. It has been observed that during the sales the shop's layout is often changed temporarily to stage the off-sale items in a striking manner inside the store. But the most significant change is to the entrance to the shop, which is usually defined by the show window and can be interpreted as a kind of symbolic door. Arnold van Gennep argues that the architectural situation and especially doors are perceived as strong symbolic elements in passage rites. Doors symbolise transition, and rites of passage use doors to make changes visible.91 Making things visible is an important function of rituals, which is why the materialisation of rituals plays an important role in making things visible as well as in making social changes traceable on the level of emotion and intuition. Materialisation strategies use such intuitive images like the door for this level of communication. When an initiate walks in through a door during the ritual dramatisation, the ritual audience can emotionally follow the change of social state. Although we go through doors everyday, the door assumes a symbolic function because of ritualisation. Decorating structured space is also a widespread practice because decoration indicates that a space is ritualised. The decoration privileges a space in relation to others and at times even restricts access. All this can happen, but does not necessarily have to happen. Bell explains it as follows:

"At best, ritualisation can be defined only as a 'way of acting' that makes distinctions like the foregoing ones by means of culturally and situationally relevant categories and nuances. When such culturally specific strategies are generalized into a universal phenomenon, much of the logic by which these ritual strategies do what they do is lost."92

For our analysis, this means that we should not to try to apply categories "blindly" but be aware of the nuances that separate the ritualised show window from the everyday and develop a discourse that emerges from a precise study of the phenomenon. Certain culturally specific strategies do what they do only because of the context, and we will not try to universalise them. But if we follow Roland Barthes' hypothesis, we would have to see whether the same universal phenomenon can be found in the advent of the new fashion collection and the

91 Gennep (1960:192)

Death of

Dionysian rite of the ancient Greeks. Rituals have been performed in magic societies, in religious societies and in our contemporary consumer culture as well. Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the ritual cannot be disproved by the progress of science and since rituals do not express notions, they cannot be disproved by new scientific findings.93 It seems that rituals have developed resistant antibodies in our contemporary consumer culture. Even the mystic would resist Wittgenstein's analytical philosophy.94 Is it possible today to find anything that was performed under different cultural conditions in the past? According to Bell, the function of rituals is strongly linked to their cultural context. Seen in this light, if we assume a "return" of the Dionysus rite what would it look like under the changed cultural conditions and without the attached myth of the Greek god? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, dramatisations of the new seasonal collection in various media, like fashion magazines and show windows, can be taken for granted as a phenomenon of bigger cities.95 Is the ritualisation of the fashion system a new invention or is it, as Barthes argues, a dramatisation, which has to be seen in relation to ancient rites of spring?

"The tendency to think of rituals as essentially unchanging has gone hand in hand with the equally common assumption that effective rituals can not be invented. Until very recently, most people's commonsense notion of ritual meant that someone could not simply dream up a rite that would work the way traditional ritual has worked."96

Both options are possible. Due to the dramatisation of the new seasonal collection, we can now encounter an old rite that has changed over the course of time and according to new cultural conditions, or we can encounter a newly invented rite of consumer culture. As we have illustrated above, the invention of consumer rites has also led to the successful invention of a lot of new rites. But all of them bear a strong link to the social dimension, to the family, to mother and father. Communist societies are a good example for the invention of several new socialist life-cycle rites, which are all attached to family life.

94 Wittgenstein (1963:115).

95 Many magazines from beginning of the twentienth century show the presentation of garments. We are not speaking here of the phenomenon of the seasonal sale window and it is not the target of our analysis to delineate the historic developments of the phenomenon.

96 Bell (1997:223)

Socialist institutions replaced the ritual service of the church with newly invented rites for births and weddings.97 But the arrival of the new fashion collection is not an appropriate comparison in this context because its rites provide no link to such core necessities as the strengthening of family ties. The lack of knowledge about the ritual's origins has been discussed in ritual studies as well. Barbara Myerhoff argues that the invisibility of the ritual's origins and its inventors is intrinsic to ritual per se.98 People do not want to acknowledge rituals as human inventions but rather see them as reflecting the underlying und unchanging nature of the world.99 It appears that we do not want to know where our practices originated, for example, where celebrating Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day or our celebration of new fashion collections come from. We perform rituals to make our social conditions stable; asking stupid questions is a violation of this system. The performance of rituals on a regular basis is an important aspect of the nature of rituals. This recurrent performance becomes self-explanatory. The effect, for example, of structuring the flux of time by calendar rites creates a sense of safety. The fashion year is one such system, bringing security into the life of the consumer society.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment