A liminal space: Transformation to post-corona

Rector's Blog

Being in a lockdown since December 2020, in one of our bi-weekly all-staff meetings I mentioned how I feel we live in a liminal space. Liminality is a concept based on the Latin word ‘limen’, threshold. The concept was developed by anthropologist Victor Turner* (1974) based on work by Van Gennep (1960, first published in 1909) on rites de passages. Van Gennep distinguishes three stages in a rite de passage. The 1st stage is separation, with groups moving from one stage (here: pre-corona) to a new stage (here: corona). 

This 2nd stage is the transition or liminal stage: we no longer enjoy our previous status and circumstances and are not yet in the last stage when the rite de passage is completed (here: post-corona). A liminal phase is thus a period in-between; neither here nor there. It is, as Turner nicely describes, an ‘area of ambiguity, a sort of social limbo’ (1974, p. 57).

A liminal phase is a period in-between: neither here nor there

In this liminal space, our MA students follow online education, mostly from the student housing, and most teachers give their courses from home. We have all learned a lot in this liminal phase. A team of staff and students has now prepared concrete plans for off-line education and social activities, to start as soon as the number of infections go down, the number of vaccinations go up and possibilities of rapid and self-testing are increased.

In this liminal space, we built on discussions from last year’s Dies Natalis when three of our colleagues debated three global crises: COVID-19, climate change and racism as tackled by the Black Lives Matter movement. They discussed how these crises are interconnected, what changes we need to see in society, what local and global society will look like after corona and what individuals can do to build a ‘new’ post-corona society.

In the coming months, three conferences at ISS will take stock of current trends in development studies. In July, the 16th EADI conference will take place online, on the ever-more relevant theme of Peace, Solidarity and Social Justice. The conference is combined with the Development Dialogue, the annual European conference for PhD researchers in development studies. In August, the 8th Degrowth conference: Caring communities for Radical Change will focus on how we can confront contradictions between economic growth and our planet’s ecological boundaries, reflecting the importance of care as central to degrowth.

These conferences will bring us plenty of food for thought, plans and actions. For the present and the future. For the next stage of post-corona where - like in a good rite de passage - we will mourn our losses, take on all that we have learned in the liminal space and celebrate new beginnings.  

*Turner, Victor. ‘Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology’ Rice Institute Pamphlet - Rice University Studies, 60, no. 3 (1974), pp. 53-92. Rice University.


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