The Journal of Higher Education 73.4 (2002) 543-545
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Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education
Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education, by Kathleen Manning. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 2000. 184 pp. $49.95
Manning's primary aim in this book is to invite readers to view higher education through a cultural lens by blending cornerstones of anthropology (including rituals, rites of passage, secular ceremonies, cultural performances and traditions) with higher education theory. In this fifteen-chapter book, Manning first makes the case that an anthropological perspective is relevant, then clarifies the purpose of the book—"to explore campus culture as revealed through rituals and ceremonies" (p. 3). Types of rituals and significant themes in college ritual (e.g., power, criticism) are also discussed.
Manning intermixes seven higher education case studies (i.e., Presidential Inauguration, Charter Day, Convocation, Baccalaureate, Junior Show, a campus birthday celebration for its founder, and an Alumnae parade) with theory-oriented chapters (e.g., structuralism, anthropology of experience). The final chapter focuses on the research methodology she employed during her fieldwork, which is rooted in constructivism. In short, the book blends higher education with anthropological scholarship, empirical fieldwork with cultural analysis, elementary theoretical overviews that target novice readers with more in-depth discussions that favor connoisseurs, and historical overviews of higher education with practical discussions of how this anthropological lens might improve campus life in the future.
This book has notable strengths. Foremost, it recognizes and fills a void in higher education scholarship. Historically, higher education scholars' research agendas have favored three academic disciplines: psychology (e.g., human development), sociology (e.g., organization development), and history. As Manning notes, until a few decades ago, anthropologists were reluctant to study American culture in general and higher education in particular. An erroneous perception that rituals were unimportant exacerbated this narrow disciplinary focus.
Jacquetta Hill Burnett (1976) noted:
Recently, John L. Fischer described as "common sense" the view that the progress of civilization leads to the reduced importance of ritual. . . . Max Gluckman expressed the view that "modern urban life" is correlated with the disappearance of the ritualization of social relations. Gluckman said: "I consider that rituals of the kind investigated by Van Gennep are 'incompatible' with the structure of modern urban life." (Burnett, 1976, p. 313)
Manning turns an anthropological lens onto higher education and effectively [End Page 543] refutes Fischer's and Gluckman's conclusions about the reduced importance of rituals in contemporary society in general and education in particular. The book lends support to Magolda's (2000) claims that rituals—in particular those that take place in educational contexts: " are seldom scrutinized,  are important sources for revealing social and cultural conditions,  reveal much about the ritual organizers and participants, and  are political acts that communicate expectations and norms for behavior and performance (that is, transmit culture)" (p. 32).
The thickly described case studies are another of the book's assets. In these chapters Manning separates her narratives from theoretical interpretations (which are included at the end of each narrative chapter). This format allows readers to vicariously experience, for example, a presidential inauguration, before generating their own interpretation and before learning about Manning's interpretation. The case studies and subsequent analysis illuminate the value of an anthropological perspective and remind readers how rituals, rites of passage, ceremonies, traditions, cultural performances (i.e., cornerstones of this anthropological lens) are "alive and well" and an integral part of the daily lives of collegiate students, faculty, administrators, and alumni.
The theory discussions are digestible and understandable. For example, in Chapter 3, "Rites of Passage: Structuralism," Manning provides an overview and critique of structuralism in higher education and discuses numerous rites of passage functions. A unique contribution of these chapters is the way the theory discussions illuminate the cultural messages embedded in campus rituals and ceremonies. Manning never loses sight of how theory can inform practice and vice versa.
Although the theoretical discussions within chapters are well integrated, the discussions across chapters are less seamless. Manning presents her theoretical...