Ref. :  000001878
Date :  2001-10-01
Language :  English
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Author :  Christoph Wulf

Rituals are cultural representations. As such, their appearance and their effect are determined by the specific nature of each culture. Societies change under the influence of globalisations, resulting in the transformation of their cultures and of the rituals which engender and shape them. Transformations through globalisations lead to lasting changes of community life, one of the consequences of which is the disappearance of numerous traditional rituals, and the appearance of new ones.

One approach is to define rituals as actions without spoken words, expressed through gesture. A ritual is a corporal movement with a beginning, an end, and a precise direction. It thus assigns determined positions to participants. Rituals are symbolically coded corporal procedures which create social realities, interpret them, maintain them, and modify them. They possess standardised characters and allow digressions. Body movements during the ritual provoke emotions which subsequently originate any modification of the ritual. That is their “constructive potential.”

Rituals are generally reflexive, and the person who instigates them is also the receiver. Nonetheless, within the compartmentalisation of modern societies, many cultural minorities differentiate themselves though rituals worked out in opposition to the majority culture. Under the influence of economic globalisation, new rituals are being born, above all in the area of electronic communication and markets. Contrary to traditional rituals, many of these new rituals do not require the physical presence of their players. They take place in a virtual space which they simultaneously create. Thus, communities of communication form between human beings from different historical and cultural contexts, living in faraway places, and wishing to communicate amongst themselves. In many cases, this new form of global interaction plays a determining part in the daily lives of human beings.

For a long time already, the effects of television have been a new ritualisation of daily life and new forms of community. These new forms of community are born during “televised events,” during major sporting events, for example, when a spontaneously formed group watches a programme together. In the long term, television can thus generate the formation of an imaginary, independent of the ethnic origin of the audience, who, referring to this, produce new virtual communities and new ritualised forms of communication. Television’s ubiquity and simultaneity, transgressing cultural and territorial borders, have an important part to play here.

With the Internet and emails, new communication rituals have also appeared. They bring about networking of organisations and heterogeneous individuals throughout the entire world. It is possible to talk about the birth of a global network-society in which capital, work, culture, communication, space and time, and the rituals and ritualisations which structure all these areas can undergo profound changes. Just as the ritual of reading the morning paper offers the security of being up to date on recent developments and the conception that the world is in order, despite the tumult, reading and answering one’s morning emails assures us that others are thinking of us and that we belong to their community. Just as family members confirm their familial community over the breakfast table, we assure ourselves, by reading and answering emails, that we belong to this virtual society. Contrary to communities which form through ritual actions performed by several people in one place, this is about virtual and heterogeneous communities, whose size and composition fluctuate. They are formed through ritualised actions, all of which refer to each other, undertaken in various places around the planet, and which represent new ritualised community formations within the network-society.

As a consequence of globalisation, today’s world is characterised by the growing risks of dynamic modernisation which feature a growth of complexity and a failure of controlling strategies which had been tried and tested. Faced with this situation, the usual rituals of bureaucracy no longer work, and are complemented or replaced by rituals of the market institution. The traditional bureaucratic model used to formally regiment procedures for actions. Predictability, durability, performance, and competition were significant, and formed the basis upon which necessary actions were ritualised. It is a whole other story with regards to the market organisation model, the network. This latter is expressed around horizontal hierarchies, in which the principle of teamwork and procedural orientation play a central part. Goals are determined and followed in a strategic manner, and all factors of success are analysed and controlled. Success is guaranteed by the “optimisation” of human resources and of competition, through motivation and control. Management oriented toward objectivity has been replaced by management oriented toward subjectivity. Co-workers turn into “entrepreneurs” and communication makes its appearance at the very heart of management. The development of auto-organisation, of confidence, and of the faculty to learn become central strategies. The question is of open communication, following a goal, of a link between performance and a faculty to learn, and of the development of networking competence. This market orientation, which has established itself on a global scale, has incited the emergence of new communication rituals and of less spectacular work. Within multinational companies, these rituals establish a particular transnational ritual culture, whose standardising consequences will have long-term repercussions on other walks of life.

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