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Liminal Asymmetries. Making Sense of Transition Dynamics in Relations with Dying Persons


Menzfeld, Mira (2022). Liminal Asymmetries. Making Sense of Transition Dynamics in Relations with Dying Persons. Curare. Zeitschrift für Medizinethnologie, 2022(2):28-38.

Abstract

The article presents one option for an anthropologically informed understanding of onto-hierarchical particularities that can characterize and shape relationships between non-dying persons (e.g. researchers) and dying interlocutors. The article draws on research with responsive and conscious persons who 1) suffer from a terminal illness, 2) have been informed about their terminal prognosis, and 3) regard their diagnosis as reliable information about their own dying. The classic Turnerian ideas of threshold and transition dynamics are applied to make sense of liminal asymmetry as an important factor that permeates research relations with consciously dying persons and can sometimes create challenging situations during fieldwork. Liminal asymmetries are characterized by at least three dimensions. First, as dying persons are in a ‘betwixt-and-between’ state, they often desire liminal companionship and guidance when dying. (Persons who are not terminally ill are inherently incapable of adequately fulfilling the role of liminal guide or companion because they are not in a state of betwixt-and-between.) Second, the experience of hierarchy is crucial, as the dying have privileged access to a mode of being that the non-dying have not yet entered. Third, as another existential hierarchy, dying persons – having accepted a terminal diagnosis as a reliable statement about their presence and future – usually consider their state of being, agency, and vitality to be less privileged than that of non-dying persons. By acknowledging liminal asymmetries as formative for experiences of dying, we gain an additional tool for understanding research situations in which liminal asymmetries are directly or indirectly thematized. The article describes two exemplary fieldwork scenarios to illustrate the types of situation identified as arenas for negotiating the (im)possibilities of liminal companionship and liminal guidance, as well as capability-related hierarchies.

Abstract

The article presents one option for an anthropologically informed understanding of onto-hierarchical particularities that can characterize and shape relationships between non-dying persons (e.g. researchers) and dying interlocutors. The article draws on research with responsive and conscious persons who 1) suffer from a terminal illness, 2) have been informed about their terminal prognosis, and 3) regard their diagnosis as reliable information about their own dying. The classic Turnerian ideas of threshold and transition dynamics are applied to make sense of liminal asymmetry as an important factor that permeates research relations with consciously dying persons and can sometimes create challenging situations during fieldwork. Liminal asymmetries are characterized by at least three dimensions. First, as dying persons are in a ‘betwixt-and-between’ state, they often desire liminal companionship and guidance when dying. (Persons who are not terminally ill are inherently incapable of adequately fulfilling the role of liminal guide or companion because they are not in a state of betwixt-and-between.) Second, the experience of hierarchy is crucial, as the dying have privileged access to a mode of being that the non-dying have not yet entered. Third, as another existential hierarchy, dying persons – having accepted a terminal diagnosis as a reliable statement about their presence and future – usually consider their state of being, agency, and vitality to be less privileged than that of non-dying persons. By acknowledging liminal asymmetries as formative for experiences of dying, we gain an additional tool for understanding research situations in which liminal asymmetries are directly or indirectly thematized. The article describes two exemplary fieldwork scenarios to illustrate the types of situation identified as arenas for negotiating the (im)possibilities of liminal companionship and liminal guidance, as well as capability-related hierarchies.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology and the Study of Religion > Institute of Religious Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:200 Religion
Language:English
Date:5 June 2022
Deposited On:07 Jul 2023 14:28
Last Modified:07 Mar 2024 15:20
Publisher:Dietrich Reimer Verlag GmbH
ISSN:0344-8622
OA Status:Closed
Other Identification Number:978-3-496-01694-6