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date: 24 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, scholarly theories of ritual began incorporating the language of ‘action’, ‘performance’, and ‘practice’, partly as a corrective to perceived limitations to existing theory, which was dominated by structuralism and communicative models. Ritual, once conceived as staid and habitual—in the best case, expressive, communicative, and symbolic of already existing ideas, beliefs, and values—was approached freshly in terms of agency and efficacy. In early theory, ritual was said to function as a kind of social glue, binding individuals in groups and confirming social statuses and hierarchies. Performance and action-centred theories variously analyse the socially disruptive and transformative potentials of ritual, questions of aesthetics and embodiment, and the formal, invariant properties of ritual. ‘Action’ is a particularly difficult concept, as it is conceived and used in ritual theory in several different, sometimes antithetical ways.

Keywords: action, agency, inscription, performance, practice, relationship, ritual theory, virtuality

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