New Alignments in Ritual, Ceremony and Celebration
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Increasingly, cultural workers and artists from many disciplines are finding themselves involved in the creation of public and private rituals, ceremonies and celebrations. Focusing on ritual and celebration in Australian contexts, this thesis posits a new categorisation of the types of event that might be encountered, grouping and examining them according to their action upon participants with the aim of enabling a more practical methodology of design in contemporary societal conditions. Existing categories, which have defined these age-old activities in terms of anthropological observation or social intention, must now be regarded as obsolete because they take no account of rapid and widespread changes in degrees of adherence to traditional belief systems, in social orientation and in Western cultural practices. There is a need to reappraise why individuals and communities might continue to hold rituals and celebrations, and how these can be designed, managed and operated most effectively. The thesis identifies four major categories of ritual: Transformation, Reinforcement, Transcendence and Catharsis. It argues that, by recognising the differences between how each category operates for participants and also certain commonalities across categories, effectiveness of design is facilitated. In developing parameters for each category and giving examples of contemporary praxis, the writer stresses the importance of understanding traditional ceremonies so that elements of a rich repertoire of techniques developed over long periods can be planned into new rituals for contemporary application, despite the dissipation of shared, coherent belief systems in a highly secularised culture. This impels consideration of questions of cultural sensitivity, raises the need for close community involvement in design, and requires exploration of managing the challenges of multiple signification. Contemporary cultural contexts for ritual and celebratory events are marked by plurality, multi-vocalism and multicultural experience. Designers thus need to achieve, out of difference, an event that produces coherence, deep effects for each participant and a sense of shared experience. The thesis demonstrates means to this end through informed praxis, that is, by practitioners ensuring that theory and practice are working together in these complex contexts that involve the well being of individuals and communities. The categories have been identified through investigations into the literature of myth, ritual and celebration, helpful frameworks developed in cognitive science, and extensive research provided by thirty years of practice in the field. As a designer and director of rituals and celebrations, the writer seeks both to confirm the importance of the artist within the process and to demonstrate a new, practical, ethically located and effective approach for the education of intending practitioners. No claim is made that the four categories are definitive or mutually exclusive of one another. It is accepted that in many situations the categories might coalesce, be added to and/or fragment. However, the categorisation provides a fresh vantage point from which to view the potentially powerful effects of ritual experience, an effective tool of construction for the use of artists and cultural activists working in this field, and an informed basis for praxis. In developing this new categorisation the writer argues an ongoing need for rituals and celebrations to clarify and enrich the lives of individuals and the community while stressing the importance of careful and appropriate design of such events.
Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
School of Arts
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