The Difficult Integration of Liminal Individuals
In anthropology, a rite of passage is a process voluntarily initiated to allow an individual or a group move through a difficult stage of transformation. The liminal period is the intermediate stage of this process. The idea of liminality has been widely used in the social sciences and in management. However, although it initially had a strong operational dimension for carrying out a transformation, it has become a simple concept describing the situation of individuals who are disoriented and sidelined. Nonetheless, organizational management needs operational tools to facilitate the integration of individuals during transition phases. This article seeks to understand how rituals can facilitate the integration process of liminal individuals. We study a case of ritual passage within a highly ritualized nonreligious organization: a Masonic lodge. We identify several mechanisms, activated through the ritual, that help to integrate liminal individuals. We analyze them through the ventriloquial perspective of communication, borrowed from the theory called Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO). The results show that the ritual favors (1) the integration of individuals by reducing the ambiguity of the liminal situation, (2) the affirmation of a temporality, (3) the alignment of individual and collective objectives, (4) the recognition of otherness, (5) the lesser hierarchization of individuals, (6) the reduction of hyper-subjectivity, (7) the use of declarative statements, and (8) the rise in authority. We discuss the discrepancies between these results and works on liminality in management and the possible transposition of these mechanisms to various organizations.
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