DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

“Definition of the Liminal”

Allison Wright 


            This extended definition gives a broad overview of the concept of liminality while also seeking to explain its application to media theory. Wright explains that liminal means relating to the beginning of a state. Wright explains van Gennep’s three stages of rites of passage. She then begins to explain how this concept applies to media, which, I admit, I’m still a bit confused about, as I will elaborate on later. She writes about the liminal’s ambiguous, vague, middle-ground qualities. She then gives Victor Turner’s example of how initiations can be viewed as liminal. She continues to give explanations of the liminal: its directionless, unpredictable zone of in-between-ness. She introduces the concept of liminal beings as symbols of ambiguous personae, such as those in between two stages of life. She mentions inherent contradictions they represent: being “betwixt and between,” they are neither what they used to be or what they will be, while also being a little of both at once. She references cyborgs as a liminal being, existing as both man and robot but neither fully either of them. She finishes by summarizing the terminology she has already used which may be useful for understanding the complex concept of the liminal.


What confuses you in this text? Why?

            I’m confused by the parts in which Wright connects liminality to media theory. I think that there aren’t many simple, concrete examples of how liminality applies to media in a relatable way. Wright references Deleuze’s notion of the virtual as “pure becoming without being.” This helped me to conceptualize liminality, but not how it applies to media, which is what Wright noted as her intent in the previous sentence. I think much of my confusion may also stem from this piece’s context. It doesn’t seem to be written for those of us unfamiliar with media theory. Wright does a good job of referencing the works of other academics, such as Gilles Deleuze and Slavoj Zizek, but doesn’t explain their background or the complete nature of their work. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For me it merely suggests that Wright is writing for an audience that is unfamiliar to the concept of liminality but not to media theory. I believe this is also supported the fact that this definition comes nestled under the glossary of a section entitled, “Theories of Media.” With this context in mind, it seems that I would need to do more research if I want to fully understand how liminality relates to media.


            This section of reading made me think of the reading I’ve recently done for my anthropology course. Wright seems to focus on how the liminal state is one in which things are fluid, unfixed, and otherwise messy and undefined. In my reading for anthropology, the author explains how, as humans, we must constantly seek to regulate our population and use of resources in order to maintain ecological stability. It discussed the carrying capacity of an environment, or how many people it can support. The author explained just how difficult it is to maintain stability within this carrying capacity. If the population grows too close to the capacity, it only takes a minor crisis or change in climate to create a scarcity of food. If the population drops too far away from the capacity, it will become extinct. As a result, the society must constantly regulate their population and adjust their means of living and farming so that neither of these extremes occur. This made me think of Wright’s writing on the “betwixt and between” nature of the liminal. The societies discussed never fell into non-existence, but they also never became truly stable. Rather, they seemed to exist in a liminal state.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.