Liminal spaces – Turner and Gennep

Liminal spaces – Turner and Gennep

I have been attracted to the idea of space as liminal. My son tells me that Turner is the person to turn to for the best understanding of this concept, although I have already looked at and commented on this idea elsewhere (Awdish, 2020, Shortt, 2015, Turner, 1967).

At this stage I need a definition of liminal space, and it seems that Turner’s ideas are themselves based on the work of Arnold van Gennep (Gennep, 2019). From the introduction; 

The notion that an individual’s life consists of a series of transitions, structured by the society one lives in, and that these consist of three stages—separation from the old role, a liminal period between roles, and then the assumption of the new role—has become so commonplace that relatively few who use the phrase are aware of its origin.

It is that transition that is the rite of passage. 

Tuner helpful defines a rite of passage, which might be marked by ritual behaviour, as “transistions between states” p 234. The term “state” may also be applied to ecological condtions , or to the physical, mental or emotional condition in which a person or group may be found at a particular time p234”  I think that the state of ‘working from home’ is a transition which I can see has its own rituals and is definitely a transition with emotional and physical consequences. Van Gennep refers to distinc monments in ritual time  separation, margin and aggregation. It is the marginal state that Turner concentrates on and it is what chimes with me most. 

Separation = “symbolic behaiour signifying the detatchment of the individual = laptop sent to me by taxi, downloading security app, not present from main physical site, new state where one is alone and not with physically 

Margin = “the state of the subject is ambiguous; he passes through a realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state” = room not ready, moving to video and not face to face, how long will I be here?

Aggregation = “in the third phase the passage is consummated…in a stable state … expected to behave to certain customary norms and ethical standards.” = ritual of preparedness to work, logged as home working in diary

Like other rites of passage such as motherhood or to manhood which can be seen as crises the rite of passage does not need to be a crisis although covid was p235.

Turner points out that the passage from one state to another is “in the liminal period, structurally, if not physically “invisible.”” Maybe this enforeced change created this liminal space?


AWDISH, R. 2020. The Liminal space. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp202147. New England Journal of Medicine, 338.

GENNEP, A. V. 2019. The rites of passage. (With a new introduction by David I. Kertzer), Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

SHORTT, H. 2015. Liminality, space and the importance of ‘transitory dwelling places’ st work. relations. , 68, 633-658.

TURNER, V. 1967. Betwixt and between: the liminal period in rites de passage. (Reprinted from the proceedings of the American Ethanological Society (1964). Symposium on new approaches to the study of religion. pp 4-20, University of Washington Press). 4th ed. Reader in comaparative religion