Reversal theory, Victor Turner and the experience of ritual

Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (s 10-11):184-203 (2008)
The extraordinary parallel between the psychological theory of reversals (Apter, 1982) and the anthropological theory of anti-structure (Turner, 1982)-- both derived independently and almost simultaneously from entirely different kinds of evidence and research-- would seem to point to something profound and universal in human experience which has been curiously neglected in the behavioural sciences and entirely ignored in consciousness studies. What I will do here is to introduce reversal theory, show how it applies to ritual, and then compare it with Victor Turner's well-known approach to the very same topic. Reversal theory has in fact been used to elucidate many diverse social phenomena, for example criminal violence, military combat, sexual behaviour, family relationships, soccer hooliganism, organizational culture, leadership, team sports, social advocacy and classroom management (see review in Apter, 2001a). The present paper extends these ideas to ritual for the first time, and makes reference especially to the work of Turner and his idea of cultural inversions (Turner, 1969). Reversal theory is also about inversions, but the inversions in this case (i.e. reversals) occur at the level of individual psychology and are identified initially as experiential rather than behavioural or social. This paper will explore the relationship between these two kinds of reversal, psychological and anthropological
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