Festivals or rituals?
Festival politics, religiosity and sociability,
The importance of the court jester.

Part VII – Festivity, liminality, the carnivalesque.


Festivity is an area of cultural consumption that resonates throughout the modern world.

Like music, festivity has a universality that is steeped in ancient history, often associated with religion, rites of passage, patronage, or even as a mode of structural resistance or social control. At its core, festivity reflects a gregarious collectivism, celebrates carnal desire, and conveys the promise of libidinal liberation. The fantasy of festivity exerts a magnetic fascination on a mass scale.

Music festivals are a global product of the culture industries and, as well as being a point of reference for youth pilgrimages, they attract more demographic segments and address postmodern themes that reflect an attitude of extended youth, and are spectacular sites of hyper-experience and orgiastic hedonism. The resonance and power of festivity are ancient and culturally universal, having been incorporated into modern consciousness, evoking ideas of social release, escape and moral vacations of the self, as well as a paradox where sexualized behaviour appears side-by-side with family fun, as can be seen in the Rio and Mardi Gras Carnivals.

Today, instead of a place of spontaneous freedom, the festival has become a manegerially manipulated fantasy product, where the experience is constantly captured and virally mediated to become the sustaining capital of the field, in the face of the growth of social media (fundamental to modern politics of identity), which suggests a movement of the festival fantasy from management to co-creation and convergence in its construction. The festival fantasy is a co-created construct of sociability that, ironically, depends on the digital displays of a self-regulating performative consumer whose embodied experience demands a virtual and viral presence.

In the case of the music festival, there is a connection with resistance, neotribalism, club culture, postmodern identities and rave culture.


The state of liminality is characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity and communitas in rituals, however, in order to apply this state to festivals, the term “liminoid” (profane and not sacred) must be used. “Liminoid” therefore emphasizes the notion of separation, loss of identity and social status, and role reversals, in which people are more relaxed, uninhibited and open to new ideas.

Liminality, or the temporary state of being apart from the mundane (as in a ritual, travel or event experience) is an enduring theme, with Turner as the main inspiration: “the passage from one social status to another, (…) is (…) accompanied by a parallel passage in space, (…) [or pilgrimage, through] a mere opening of doors or the literal crossing of a threshold which separates two distinct areas” related to pre- and post-ritual or liminal status.

According to van Gennep, an extended liminal phase in the initiation rites of tribal societies is frequently marked by the physical separation of the ritual subjects from the rest of society (…). Ritual symbols of this phase, though some represent inversion of normal reality, characteristically fall into two types: those of effacement and those of ambiguity or paradox. (…). Sharp symbolic inversion of social attributes may characterize separation; blurring and merging of distinctions may characterize liminality. (Turner, 1974, pp.58-59)

In the midst of transition, initiatives are driven as far as possible into uniformity, structural invisibility and anonymity. As compensation, beginners acquire a special kind of freedom, a “sacred power”. The novices are confronted by the elders, in rite, myth, music, instruction in a secret language, and various non-verbal symbolic genres, with symbolic patterns and structures which amount to teachings about the structure of the Cosmos and their culture as a part and product of it.

Liminality is a complex series of episodes in sacred space-time, and can also include subversive and playful events. The factors of culture are isolated and can be regrouped in various, often grotesque ways.

Liminal and liminoid situations are scenarios in which new symbols, models and paradigms emerge, as de facto seedbeds of cultural creativity. Liminoid actions can recover the character of “work”, and are an independent and endogenous domain of creative activity. The “anti-structure” can generate and store a plurality of alternative models of life, from utopias to programs, capable of influencing social and political domains in the direction of radical change (just like experimental and theoretical science itself).

The anti-structure is the liberation of human capacities from normative restrictions, which, however, has a prerequisite: the need for the existence of a gap between the past and the future, where innovation takes place that is subsequently legitimized by the structure. These can be characterized by freedom in form and spirit, an emphasis on feeling and originality, where cultural transformation, contextual discontent and social criticism are central and a matter of holistic development.

Revolutions, whether successful or not, become the limina, with all its initiatory connotations, between the structure. Although this “liminal” may be metaphorical, its use can help us think about global human society and historical social convergences. Whether violent or not, revolutions can be the totalizing liminal phases through which the limina of tribal rites of passage were only foreshadowings or premonitions.

It is in liminality that the seed of the liminoid is secreted. It only awaits major socio-cultural changes so that it can grow and branch out into multiple liminoid cultural genres.

In high culture, the liminoid is not only removed from the context of the rite of passage, it is also individualized. While the artist creates liminoid phenomena, the community experiences collective liminal symbols.

The distinction between liminoid and liminal can be seen as a game that is, on the one hand, play, and on the other, work. In archaic and tribal societies, work and play were part of the ritual through which men sought communion with ancestral spirits. Religious festivals incorporated both work and play.

Festivals are based on the languages and techniques of play to intensify the spirit of fun through spatial transformation, which in a way legitimizes what might be considered marginal outside of this context. There is an openness and a liberation because there is less restraint in social interaction.

Roger Caillois’ theory of play divides play into two axes: paidia and ludus. While paidia is associated with uncontrolled fantasy, ludus is associated with obstacles to be overcome in games. Four additional concepts (agon or competition; alea or chance; mimicry or simulation; ilinx or vertigo) are used to understand play, explaining the structure of games in the world of “make-believe”, while ritual is in the world of “we believe”. There is an evolutionary development, a rational civilizational advance, from the unholy combination of mimicry and ilinx (characterized by the games and cultural performances of primitive or Dionysian societies, governed by masks and possessions), to the rationalism and light of agon and alea (represented by civilized societies such as the Incas, Assyrians, Chinese and Romans).

Without a theater of mask and trance, of simulation and vertigo, the people perish.

The Carnivalesque

Carnival is the destiny of a place that is no place, and a time that is no time. The city becomes the reverse of its daily self.

In Bakhtin’s carnivalesque construction, festivals are a temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and the established order that offers the possibility of excitement and entertainment with the potential to develop new forms of regulation needed to maintain social control.

Liminality represents less a place of closure or appropriation than an extension of everyday life, a celebration of normality seen and constructed through the elision of the carnivalesque. Carnival becomes everyday life. Festivals are reflexive by nature, providing a legitimized break from everyday life, reinforcing the values underlying that routine. In the heterotopic construction of the festival, although there may be a temporary elision of everyday life, the cultural and moral codes remain intact and dominant.

The carnivalesque is an inversion of order that provides a temporary escape from the hierarchical structure and legitimizes a utopian reaction against the order of “high culture”, establishing carnivals as sites of transgression and excess. There was a need to provide and legitimize these acts of liberation and these venues provided appropriate spaces for the practice of mimetic activities, in which people are able to abandon restrictions on their emotions in a relatively controlled manner and in a pleasant environment.

Festivals and carnivals seem to break the cycle of social containment.

In the preparation of costumes, food and the venue, for example, carnival legitimizes the wider social structure while allowing the possibility of some temporary liberation, providing a created environment in which people can reject the social order within a structure that is familiar to them, in a rejection that is a socially constructed and controlled illusion.


ABRAHAMS, Roger D. (1987) “An American Vocabulary of Celebrations”, In Alessandro Falassi (ed.) Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, pp.173-183.

BIAETT, Vernon (2015) “Organic Festivity: A Missing Ingredient of Community Festival”, In Jepson, A. e Clarke, A. (eds.), Exploring Community Festivals and Events, Nova Iorque: Routledge, pp.18-30.

FLINN, Jenny e FREW, Matt (2013) “Glastonbury: managing the mystification of festivity”, Leisure Studies, 33:4, pp.418-433.

GETZ, Donald (2010) “The Nature and Scope of Festival Studies”, International Journal of Event Management Research, 5:1, pp.1-47.

GETZ, Donald (2008) “Event tourism: Definition, evolution, and research”, Tourism Management, 29:3, pp.403-428.

RAVENSCROFT, Neil e MATTEUCCI, Xavier (2003) “The Festival as Carnivalesque: Social Governance and Control at Pamplona’s San Fermin Fiesta”, Tourism, Culture & Communication, 4:1, pp.1-15.

TURNER, Victor (1983) “Carnival in rio: Dionysian drama in an industrializing society”, In Manning, Frank E., The celebration of society: perspectives on contemporary cultural performance, Bowling Green University Popular Press, pp. 103-124.

TURNER, Victor (1974) Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: an Essay in Comparative Symbology, Rice Institute Pamphlet-Rice University Studies, 60:3, pp.53-92.

Authorship: João Carvalho [1].

Based on the project work “Business plan. Cosmic Festival. Transformational Festival”, authored by João Carvalho, under the supervision of Specialist Professor Victor Afonso and co-supervision of PhD Professor Nuno Gustavo, for completion of the Master’s Degree in Tourism, with a specialisation in Strategic Event Management, at the Estoril Higher Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies. Presented and defended on December 27th, 2019.

May, 2020.

[1] Master’s Degree in Tourism, with specialisation in Strategic Event Management, by Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Beach Break®.