Ritual

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A final element connecting anthropological and sociological theory on

gifts and solidarity is ritual. From Durkheim’s sociology of religion (1965

[1912]) – in particular, his analysis of “primitive” Australian cults and beliefs

– the enormous impact of ritual for affirming and sustaining social

bonds and social structure has become apparent. Religious rituals are

adaptive to the life of the community by imposing self-discipline. They

bring people together in ceremonies, thereby contributing to solidarity.

Ritual also “revitalizes the social heritage of the group and helps transmit

its enduring values to future generations” (Coser 1971: 139). Moreover,

rituals have a euphoric function by counteracting feelings of frustration

and by establishing the sense of being right and acting in a morally

justified way.

It is the merit of anthropologists to have uncovered the variety and

complexity of the meanings and functions of ritual. They have described

and interpreted the numerous rituals surrounding important transitions

in the life cycle, or other events that demand sacralization and ritualization

(van Gennep 1960; Lґevi-Strauss 1966 [1962]; V. Turner 1969; Geertz

1973). In his fascinating account of the Balinese cockfight, Clifford Geertz

(1973) offers an interpretation of ritual that differs from the usual functionalist

one of reinforcing status positions and social structure. The

cockfight can be “read as a text” saying something about Balinese experience.

Participating in a cockfight is for the Balinese “a kind of sentimental

education” (1973: 449). The ritual symbolizes that society is built of certain

emotions like the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, and the pleasure

of triumph. “Drawing on almost every level of Balinese experience, it

brings together themes – animal savagery, male narcissism, opponent

gambling, status rivalry, mass excitement, blood sacrifice – whose main

connection is their involvement with rage and the fear of rage, and, binding

them into a set of rules which at once contains them and allows

them play, builds a symbolic structure in which, over and over again, the

reality of their inner affiliation can be intelligibly felt” (Geertz 1973: 449–

450). The symbolic structure of the cockfight allows emotions to be expressed

while at the same time putting restrictions on them by the setting

of rules.

By bringing together assorted experiences of everyday life, the ritual

creates a “paradigmatic human event” enabling the Balinese to see

adimension of their own subjectivity that they would not have seen

otherwise, at least not in such a condensed form. This seems to be a

basic aspect of solidarity as well: by participating in a group activity

the individual members learn how to “read” themselves, how their basic

emotions become transformed in the interaction with other people,

and how their individual being gets shaped through their interdependency

with other people. In this sense rituals reinforce the main basis

of organic solidarity:mutual dependency. Rituals tie people together because

they give expression to feelings of group dependency, even while

group members do not share exactly the same values or interpret the

ritual in exactly the same way (Kertzer 1988). In addition to the wellknown

functions of ritual as affirming social ties, revitalizing group life,

and promoting the attainment of group goals, at a more basic level it

may function as a “school” where lessons can be learned about how the

group can contribute to realizing one’s own full potential. If it is true,

as Durkheim thought, that individuals can only become fully human in

and through society, then social rituals presumably fulfill an important

socializing role.

In most anthropologicalwork on gift exchange the focus is on the ritual

and symbolic aspects of gift giving. Gifts are not primarily or predominantly

exchanged for any economic purpose. Rather, they are instruments

to convey symbolic messages of the most varied kind, as Lґevi-Strauss has

argued. Individuals participating in the ritual and respecting its symbols

see their “emotional energy” andmutual confidence enhanced. Inversely,

persons showing disrespect for the symbols are subject to anger and

punishment. The solidarity generated through the interaction processes

involved in gift exchange indeed transcends the mere behavioral interaction

between the exchange partners by extending it to the emotional

mood and the quality of the social relationship.