Autobiographical Accounts

Activity Description:


To encourage students to reflect on the connections between rites of passage and family transitions


Students themselves are rich sources of primary data about the importance of ritual occasions in the lives of American families and how these rites serve as symbolic “sign posts” in autobiographical conceptions of the self.

  1. In a class exercise, students might pair off and interview one another about key ritual events in their memories of their own lives and of their family. What important family vocations or legendary holidays do they recall or know of (perhaps including some before they were born)? Class discussion might compare these findings and search for salient commonalities and distinctions.
  2. It is often interesting to analyze the rites with attention to gender and generation: what explicit and implicit messages do the various ceremonies convey about masculinity and femininity, or about the proper relations between youths and elders? Students from immigrant families often have access to especially rich data on ritual innovation and synthesis: to what extent have rituals in their family assimilated over time to a mainstream American norm, developed marked and elaborate ethnic inflections, or hit upon ingenious symbolic compromises?

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Mark Auslander.