Rituals of the Workplace


  • Mark Auslander

Document type: Encyclopedia Entry

Appears in: Work and Family Encyclopedia

Year: 2003


  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Organizations
  • Roles


  • Anthropology


Definitions and models of “ritual” are so highly contested in the human sciences that a cross-disciplinary reader is often left with the impression of scholars “divided by a common language” (to paraphrase G.B. Shaw). Sociologists influenced by Goffman (1967) may use the term broadly to refer to any form of patterned, repetitive behavior, with particular attention to interactive strategies of status enhancement. Those in a more direct Durkheimian tradition (e.g. Etzioni 2000) emphasize the (usually integrative) capacity of ritual to communicate and instill shared values of great importance to a society or social group. Thus, sociologist Steven Lukes defines ritual as “rule-governed activity of a symbolic character which draws the attention of its participants to objects of thought and feeling which they hold to be of special significance” (Lukes 1975). In contrast, anthropologists, who usually regard “ritual” as falling within their discipline’s special provenance, tend towards more elaborate and restricted definitions, often emphasizing the multilayered dramatization and mediation of paradox, tension, and ambiguity (for a discussion of ritual as the symbolic management of contradiction, see the entry “Rituals of the Family”). Some anthropologists distinguish between “ritual” and “ceremony”; for Victor Turner, pioneering ethnographer of ritual symbolism, ritual is “transformative” and is generally based on mystical assumptions about the capacity of ritual action, often through the imputed agency of divinities, spirits or ancestors, to alter social and natural facts. In contrast, he argues, “ceremony” is simply “confirmatory” of social relations that have been constituted outside of the ceremonial frame itself (Turner 1967, 1969). Some anthropologists, such as McLeod (1990), hence doubt that the term “ritual” can legitimately be used in analyzing modern corporate or organizational contexts.

Link:Rituals_of_the_Workplace encyclopedia