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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 1, 2011

Rituals and Routines: A Semiotic Inquiry

Massimo Leone
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


The article proposes a semiotic comparison between the phenomenological structure of rituals and routines, and claims that they share the same features of repetition through time, impossibility of change, unavailability of choice, and transcendental conception of origin. If a modern, structural conception of meaning based on alternative is adopted, both rituals and routines can be considered as meaningless. However, if the non-structural, pre-modem conception of meaning based on repetition is embraced, rituals and routines appear to be meaningful, although they do not have a meaning according to the structural semiotic ideology. The sense of belonging that emerges from rituals and routines (from routines as rituals) relies exactly on the feeling that no alternative is possible, that meaning depends on a subject's repetitive frequentation of a physical or conceptual space, and that dis-placement does not exist. The section concludes by focusing on the main phenomenological difference between a ritual and a routine- whereas the former is collective, the latter is individual-, contending that this is the main reason for which the existential value of rituals in pre-modem societies is not satisfactorily replaced by that of routines in contemporary societies. Routines offer to (post-) modern subjects an alienating feeling of belonging that fails to replace the sense of belonging guaranteed by pre-modem rituals. Only through rituals do subjects feel part of a collective routine that secures their feeling of belonging.

Published Online: 2011-9-1
Published in Print: 2011-9-1

© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston