Belgian folklorist Arnold Van Gennep argued that there are three distinct phases of liminality. Like a typical sociologist, he positioned liminality as a process rather than a destination.
He was writing particularly on rites of passage, but I am interested in if it is possible that tiny house building could be viewed anthropologically as a rite of passage.
The three stages he outlined are as follows:
1. Separation from regular social norms, moving away somehow from ordinary life.
2. The threshold or liminal phase, where people exist in a transient moment between their past ways of operating and their transformed future ways of operating.
3. Re-aggregation, where people are reintroduced to normal social life but, crucially, as an altered or transformed person.
Could we interpret the tiny houser’s ritual transformation through liminality as something like:
1. Separation. The social actor decides that they no longer want to participate in ordinary consumer life which demands destruction of the environment and a live-to-work attitude.
2. The threshold. The transient moment is the moment when they are designing, building, arranging their new life in the tiny house; finding somewhere to put it etc.
3. Re-aggregation. The tiny house resident now returns to consumer culture (because realistically there is no way to step out) but with a renewed critical interpretation of everything around them; with a deliberate rather than passive attitude to who they work for, how many hours they work, what they buy, where their fuel comes from etc.
Above all else, I read liminality as describing a moment in which structure and agency are not as compatible as they are in everyday life.
There is something deliberately unresolvable about the concept and reality of liminality.
Thomassen (2009) writes about how liminality is different from structuration theory because in the liminal setting, the distinction between structure and agency is no longer clear. Or rather, the distinction loses any meaning.
All of the women I have spoken to report an experience of transformation. From less confident to more confident, from frustrated to more peaceful, from burdened by huge debt to more financially free. The list is long.
And, just like Van Gennep argued, nesting and home building can be seen as more of a process than a destination.