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Review of  Relational Rituals and Communication

Reviewer: Sukriye Ruhi
Book Title: Relational Rituals and Communication
Book Author: Dániel Zoltan Kádár
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 25.2454

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‘Relational Rituals and Communication’ can be viewed as the full-blown product of Kádár’s longstanding interest in linguistic rituals and ritualization (e.g., Kádár, 2007). The monograph is theoretical in orientation and argues for a discursive and relational approach to researching constructive and destructive rituals in interpersonal communication. It illustrates the approach with data drawn from both written and spoken language in a variety of social contexts and languages. Drawing on insights and concepts from various fields such as anthropology, cultural history, (im)politeness, and psychology, the book offers an innovative perspective on how people (re-)create their interpersonal relationships through ritual acts. With this work, Kádár aims to

- offer a discursive, relational perspective on the ritual aspects of communication, particularly in the context of in-group social networks,
- examine how ritual relational practices shape discourse and our relations with people,
- show that rituals and ritualization are wider in scope in interpersonal communication, both in terms of the ‘unit’ of the ritual act and in terms of the social contexts in which rituals are performed.

Chapter One opens with the book’s motivation, and presents preliminaries for its relational and discursive approach to rituals and rituality in language use and interaction. It highlights the book’s scope as a study on relational rituals primarily in in-group social networks, and situates the relational approach against the background of traditional approaches to rituals such as in the foundational work of Durkheim (1912/1995). Contrary to the idea that interaction in contemporary Western societies is characterized by deritualisation (e.g., Burke, 2005), Kádár argues that rituality in language use is very much a part of both Western and Eastern societies, albeit in different forms. The author defines and describes the characteristics of relational ritual in the following manner: “Relational ritual is a formalised/schematic, conventionalized and recurrent act, which is relationship forcing, i.e. by operating it reinforces/transforms in-group relationships. “Ritual is realized as an embedded (mini-)performance (mimesis), and this performance is bound to relational history (and related ethos), or historicity in general (and related social ethos). Ritual is an emotively invested affective action, as anthropological research has shown” (pp. 11-12).

Chapter One continues with a discussion of the data and the data analytic methodology employed in the study. Kádár underscores that the discursive approach necessitates the analysis of “longer stretches of interaction” (p. 14), to observe how rituals are deployed in interaction. The discursive methodology is complemented by a look at the data from both participant and theoretical perspectives. In line with this approach, the author utilizes data from diverse languages (English, Hungarian and Chinese), comprising conversations with his family and friends, “post-event interviews” (p. 18), computer-mediated communication, historical epistolary discourse, and literary works.

Chapter Two presents the theoretical framework and expands on the features of relational rituals. The first two features identified in the definition of relational rituals are their “formalised/schematic and conventionalised” nature and their recurrence. Kádár places relational rituals within the innermost circle of three concentric circles comprising (linguistic) acts that have relatively fixed forms. Ordered from the outermost towards to innermost, these are: Schematic acts, conventional relational acts, and ritual relational acts. Schematic acts are defined as “pre-existing forms of behaviour used in recurrent ways that are readily recognisable to members” (p. 25). Relational rituals share with schematic acts their reference to the relational history of the interactants and their possible lack of transparency to the outsider. Conventional relational acts form the next level of the inner circle. These are acts that pertain to relating and may operate in both societal and in-group networks. They create normative expectancies and acquire fixed pragmatic meanings for the group in question (p. 42). While relational rituals are also conventionalised, they are distinguished by an emphasis on “mimetic performance” (ibid.). Kádár describes the central feature of mimetic performance as the enactment and re-enactment of “certain beliefs and values” (p. 45). Ritual practice thereby co-constitutes relations in a ‘ritual moment’. Quoting Koster (2003: 219), Kádár states that the ritual moment creates “a temporary destruction of awareness of the wider meaningful relations of one’s individuality and the reduction of the self to the immediate experience of the here and now” (p. 48). Performance is central to the understanding of ritual in the book, and I give one example below to illustrate a number of recurring themes in the argumentation: how rituals may ‘neutralise’ to a convention or disappear; how they may crucially depend on relational history; how they may interface with politeness; and how they differ in the extent of their possibility of being recognised by outsiders to a relational network.

During his stay in Taiwan, the author went to martial art training sessions every day, where he became friends with a Taiwanese who was attending a Chinese chef school and who was keen to talk about Chinese recipes and advise the author on what Chinese dishes to taste. It became the author’s habit to greet his friend with the question “What do we need to eat today?” uttered in Chinese. The greeting enhances the “Taiwanese person’s professional identity as a chef” and thus has politeness value for the interactants (p. 41). But it also displays a performance value as it harks back to their conversations about Chinese food. In this respect the utterance is not transparent as an in-group conventionally polite act of greeting to an outsider. However, the author remarks that the greeting lost its ritual value in time and “was responded to with a standard ‘Hi’ and ... was normatively expected to occur” (p. 43). He cautions, however, that ritual value may be different for the participants in an interaction.

The focus of Chapter Three is on the constructive and discursively organised, fixed formal and functional properties of in-group rituals and network identity formation, which may rely on in-group ethos and topics that are significant for the network. In this chapter Kádár draws here on both e-mail and historical Chinese epistolary discourse. He underscores that besides network identity formation, rituals allow people to “act beyond social conventions” (p. 62) and thereby prevent offence.

Chapter Four develops a typology of relational rituals based on their visibility to outsiders rather than the size of the network. Ordered with respect to transparency from the least to the most transparent, these are covert, personal, in-group, and social rituals. The first type includes rituals that are described in psychology as compulsive (delusional) rituals which relate the performer to imaginary entities (e.g. imaginary relatives) or compulsive behaviour (e.g. touching people several times when they touch the performer). Covert rituals may evoke negative evaluations and be considered unconventional for network insiders and outsiders. Irrespective of the evaluation, Kádár notes that they assist “social ‘survival’” (p. 89). Personal rituals, on the other hand, are more likely to conform to network expectancies (e.g. praying). Significantly, covert rituals may become personal rituals if they are not negatively evaluated (e.g., talk between parents and children on imaginary entities). Similarly, if taken up by the in-group, personal rituals may become in-group rituals. The author notes that the last two types also differ in terms of accessibility. Yet another difference between in-group and social rituals concerns their lifespans such that the former is more likely to disappear if the relational network no longer exists.

The cognitive dimension of relational rituals is further examined in Chapter Five with respect to their recognition in interaction and to their affective value. Regarding the noticing of rituals, Kádár argues that rituals may rise from “consciousness” to “awareness” through the performer’s reflexive awareness that the ritual may be more noticeable to other participants. From the perspective of the participant, the ritual may become “marked” if it is counter to expectations or if the participant’s “interactional situation” changes (p. 110). Based on this terminology, the author mainly discusses how rituals may be (strategically) brought from unmarked consciousness to marked awareness to effect relational outcomes (e.g. avoiding relational tension and giving face). Following earlier work, Kádár describes emotion as an “internal response” and affection as a “process of social interaction”, which produces emotion. While short-term emotions may be tied to interaction per se, long-term emotions produced by rituals concerns feelings of relatedness and are referred to as affectivity/affection (pp. 114, 125, 197). The author underscores that emotion in ritual may not have a means-ends pattern and that they may fluctuate during the interaction itself.

Chapter Six investigates destructive rituals, which are defined as acts that stigmatise a person and corrupt the relationship. The analysis shows that some forms of impoliteness also occur in destructive rituals, with the difference that destructive rituals are recurrent phenomena. Kádár explains that the destructive rituals in his data fall into three types. Ordered from the least visible to the most visible these are: Recurrent non-doing (e.g., exclusion from social events); recurrent covert offence (e.g., seemingly harmless but destructive jokes; and recurrent reference to the stigma (e.g., personal features) (pp. 148-160). The analysis also points to the significance of recognising rituals, but this time it is observed that stigmatised persons attribute the higher-order intention of planning (Talliard 2002; Bratman, 1999) to victimise the person.

Chapter Seven, the conclusion, first summarises the advantages of viewing rituals as discursive relational phenomena. Kádár notes that the relational approach places rituals within the broader context of schematic/conventionalised acts, thereby allowing for their contextualised investigation. He further notes that the approach also provides a framework for researching the ritual-politeness interface at the discursive level. Based on findings in his ongoing cross-cultural project on rituals, Kádár points out the need to research the cross-cultural significance attached to social rituals and ideologies of rituality. Further avenues of research are also notedm, such as studying historical conceptualisations of rituality, the function of discursive repetition in the development of ritual, and rituals between networks.

With its explicit focus on relating, ‘Relational Rituals and Communication’ offers a new dimension to researching (linguistic) rituals from a discursive perspective. As already noted, this work charts the analytic framework from both the participant and the theoretical perspectives. A further significant contribution is that it moves beyond the study of conventionalised (ritualistic) speech act analysis to show that rituals may be expressed through words, phrases and discourse frames. One of the volume’s strengths is the variety of languages used to illustrate the framework. As such the book promises to be a valuable resource for graduate students and researchers investigating rituals and communication in pragmatics, social interaction, (im)politeness, and cultural anthropology. In the following I dwell on some theoretical aspects that are intended to develop future research, and point to a terminological issue, with a suggestion for re-wording.

With good reason, Kádár’s definition of relational rituals highlights the emergence of ritualised language from the relational history or the social ethos of the participants. In this respect, the ritual practices that the author discusses can be interpreted as dialogic in the Bakhtinian sense in that one hears polyphonic voices and discourses (Bakhtin, 1981) that (re-)create and (re-)shape ritual performances and frames of interaction (e.g., the greeting reported in the summary). Intertwined with polyphony is the notion of chronotopes, which place individuals within multiple time-space dialogic interaction frames (Bakhtin 1981: 252). Systematically incorporating such a dialogic understanding of ritual performance would enrich the analysis of ritual moments in terms of changes in footing in the sense of participation statuses (Goffman, 1979/1981) and the social frameworks (Goffman, 1974) that are evoked in both constructive and destructive ritual practices. Expansion of the framework along these lines would fall neatly into the analytic approach in the work as the author himself too frequently refers to the animation of voices and in-group ethos (e.g., pp. 19, 59). As ritual performance is closely related to discursive identity construction (Koster, 2003), a dialogic analysis could further elaborate how and what aspects of (relational) identity are brought to consciousness and (strategically) employed in ritual practices. Such an analytic approach could also open the way to future discursive investigations of the interplay between relational rituals and power.

The recognition of a ritual practice is a significant aspect of the discursive framework developed by Kádár. The author proposes two sets of terms in discussing ritual practice that is considered normative for interactants and cases of ritual practice that are made discursively salient either through shifts in ritual frames effected by implicit and explicit metapragmatic language or through metapragmatic talk on the ritual practice itself: ‘consciousness’ and ‘unmarked’ for ritual practice that is uncontested by participants; and ‘awareness’ and ‘marked’ when a ritual practice becomes or is made salient through metapragmatic devices (Verscheuren, 2000) or discourse. Since the analyses of the data concern metapragmatic language and discourse, a more suitable term in describing salient ritual practice recognition could be ‘metapragmatic awareness’, as ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’ are used in overlapping senses both in everyday language and in the technical literature, where terminology is notoriously varied (Velmans, 2009). It also seems to be more appropriate given the discursive analytic approach employed in the book.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bratman, Michael E. 1999. Faces of Intention: Selected Essays on Intention and Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Burke, Peter. 2005. The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy: Essays on Perception and Communication. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Durkheim, Emile. 1912/1995. Karen E. Fields (trans.), The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: The Free Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Goffman, Erving. 1979/1981. Footing. In Forms of Talk (pp. 124-159). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kádár, Daniel Z. 2007. On historical Chinese apology and its strategic application. Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture 3. 125-150.

Koster, Jan. 2003. Ritual performance and the politics of identity: On the function and uses of ritual. Journal of Historical Pragmatics 4. 211-248.

Taillard, Marie-Odile. 2002. Beyond communicative intention. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 14. 189-206.

Velmans, Max. 2009. Understanding Consciousness (2nd. edn). London/New York: Routledge.

Verschueren, Jef. 2000. Notes on the role of metapragmatic awareness in language use. Pragmatics 10. 439-456.
Sukriye Ruhi retired from Middle East Technical University as professor of linguistics in 2012. She is currently manager of the Spoken Turkish Corpus project. She has published articles and chapters on face and (im)politeness, and continues research in these areas, along with research on emotion in relating, and corpus linguistics.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780230393042
Prices: U.K. £ 50
U.S. $ 85