Displacing Uncertainty: Pregnancy and Life-Crisis Risk Rituals

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Sarah MOORE, University of Bath, United Kingdom
This paper draws upon and develops my previous work with Adam Burgess on ‘risk rituals’ (Moore and Burgess 2011). ‘Risk rituals’ are behavioural adaptations that have the appearance of simple avoidance strategies. In certain circumstances these acts take on a ritualistic, even totemistic character. The concept has been used to discuss self-checking-for-illness routines, drink-spiking avoidance measures (Moore and Burgess 2011), and surgical face mask-wearing for flu-avoidance (Horii 2013; Burgess and Horii 2012). This paper sets out to develop the concept of ‘risk rituals’, and it does so by returning to the anthropological literature that originally shaped our understanding of this type of behaviour. It is a mainstay within Anthropology that certain culturally-defined periods of transition — being born, coming-of-age, getting married, becoming a parent, and dying — are marked with rituals. Turner (2008:168) describes these as ‘life-crisis’ rituals. The social function of the ‘life-crisis’ ritual is, amongst other things, to inaugurate the neophyte to her new obligations and help recalibrate the social group: in other words, they answer to problems of social uncertainty concerning shifting roles and group membership. This paper focuses on the health-related rituals surrounding pregnancy in contemporary society, and argues that these might be seen to constitute life-crisis ‘risk rituals’. What is the nature of this particular set of ‘risk rituals’ and what do they tell us about the meaning of new parenthood? Can ‘risk rituals’ function as ‘life-crisis’ rituals, and how do the latter answer to a problem of uncertainty? This paper attempts to answer such questions.