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Liminality Stage - a Period in Life Filled with Much Confusion and Anxiety

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Developing a stable identity is a crucial element to ones live. Through the phases we learn who we as people and our characters develop. During the developmental changes there is a phase in life that has grasped the eye of many researches and people worldwide. This stage is known as liminality, a period in life filled with much confusion and anxiety. This paper will discuss through integration of various readings what this period holds as well how the youth are perceived during this time of their lives.

As Comaroff and Comaroff (2006) said “Youth stands for many things at once: for the terrors of the present, the errors of the past, the prospect of the future”. The youth is a major part of society and changes in field can render effects for a lifetime so through life this important stage needs always to be supported through experienced leaders.

Turner (1967) explains liminality as the time in which a person experiences a feeling of separation from whom they are and trying to reintegrate in society as a new person. According to Turner (1969:95), “attributes of liminality or of liminal personae are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space”, this explains how people become absent and form a strange distance from the social world during this period of time (Turner, 1967:98). It was originally said by Turner that liminality refers to someone going through a change, being neither this nor that, and at the same time both (Turner, 1967:99). During this phase the person will hold very little or no qualities of which they were in the past nor of who they are to become. Turner describes this as ‘betwixt and between’ “the subject of passage ritual is, in the liminal period, structurally, if not physically, ‘invisible’” (1967:95) meaning that one is neither in the place they were nor have they reached their next full potential and this entire process is not being seeing by anyone else. Youth during this stage go through many feelings of not being able to conform to the society they are in as well as uncertainty of what is to come next (Turner, 1967:96). This idea passes through his reading in which Turner states “Liminality may perhaps be regarded as the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all and, more than that, as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (1967:97).

In North Africa and Middle East sweeping through these areas are political and economic unrest. We find that both literally and figuratively the youth are at the forefront of the protests and debates and how youth are conceptualised needs urgent attention to be understood clearly. Heuristics about youth has certainly come a long way from the influential study of Margaret Mead who looked at “coming of age” for Samoan girls (Mead, 1928). Just as Mead other influences in the field of anthropology have conceptualised youth as this liminal transition i.e: one is no longer a child, but nor an adult and they therefore looked at the process of socialisation (Turner, 1995) it was during the early 1930’s that academics began looking at youth deviated from societal norms (Becker, 1997; Cohen, 1955)

It is important for a stable character which is thought of to be someone whom has good qualities and moral this idea of a stable character is brought through stories told by elders and values thought at in school where one is told that in order to develop in adolescence they need to present a certain image so that one may continue exploration of their lives, it has been described by many academics such as Tuner and the like that this journey goes all the way into the twenties. It is a process that that is defined by many changes; a person may be moving into a new career path, moving away from their hometowns to find work or further their education but with this comes the idea of illegibility which complicates the already difficult transitioning. Because one is still finding their identity in the world they are often able to be perceived as a certain way through past experiences and these individuals are not able to create their own pathway in life. Through discussions of various case studies we will find that the opportunities to explore their surroundings and identity are not always equal for all individuals.

Liminal beings are always in a state of neither here nor there and are seen as absent in the world. People within this field begin to lose status and are positioned in suspense and example of this would be when citizenship is held back for illegal immigrants, gender types, transsexuals, bisexuals and in some cases even homosexuals in certain space (Turner 1969:360). This idea of citizenship being held back can be brought through by Maria (2004) who speaks of Muslim youth and how they are barred from performing certain practices and are sometimes deported due to religious ties and stigmas.

Maira (2004) illustrates how Muslim youth in the United States are perceived as well as put in danger due to illegibility. Many times people are misunderstood for that which they are not and this is based on race, culture and historical events. Muslim immigrants mostly those in the working class who are the youth are harassed and detained for periods of time due to unknown fear of Muslims. It is also clear how after the 9/11 bombings this fear was heightened leading to more youth being investigations and stricter restrictions placed on visiting as well as security checkpoints (Maira, 2004:223) The youth in Cambridge have to deal with scapegoating of Muslims as well as fear of being deported and constantly being under surveillance. South Asian American, Arab American as well as Muslim American are constantly in danger of hate speech and crimes. This also shows us how youth and nationhood is imagined through experiences.

 The most important aspect of the liminal field is when the youth experience a no state role “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows” (Turner, 1967:98). They are a group of individuals who have no place in society but are all equal with one another. The liminal period is presumed a symbolic death which will not necessarily last for a permanent time but is rather fixed for a short time in which a person is finding themselves and moving in the new area which they will regain status of a different level.  

Liminality is a way of social structure emerging even though fellow human beings are in an in between stage, they are more aware of themselves then before yet they have no status or place marker in society. It is said this phase only ends when a person is reintroduced into society.


Nations, then, are now usually seen as “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1991) groups of people that believe they share a common history, connected to a historic territory, communicated through a shared (public) culture of mass media. Liminality can help explain how even historic territories can shape views of youth through media (Anderson, 1991:13). Maria (2004) explains how Muslim youth perception is altered through media and therefore people draw them out to be dangerous and non-worthy of experiencing the same advantages and standard of living as those who originate from the area. My argument aims to explain why liminal individuals are polluting, and thus dangerous, to those who have not gone through the liminal period.



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