Woman/women in “the discourse of man”: Edie turner and victor turner’s language of the feminine

Barbara A. Babcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although much has been said about the dialectic of structure and antistructure, of system and process, of reason and passion, and of poetry and science in Victor Turner’s anthropology, it is rarely noted that such oppositions are profoundly gendered. Like Nietzsche’s philosophy, Turner’s anthropology may be described as “gynesis”-a putting of Woman into discourse. That which disrupts reason and structure is feminine by definition, and the figure of Woman has been deployed to deconstruct “the discourse of man” for thousands of Western centuries-in Turner’s words, “communitas wears a skirt.” And liminality and antistructure as well as communitas are repeatedly described in conceits of conception such as “seedbeds of cultural creativity, .” fons et origo, “fructile chaos, .”“regenerative abyss, .” and “storehouse of possibilities.” If Woman is figuratively significant in Turner’s texts, women literally inhabit the interstices of the anthropology that he lived and wrote. Of these, the undisciplined/disciplined and devoted Edie is, of course, the most important. But in addition to her profound and unquestionable presence, there are the echoes of other thinking women-Victor’s actress mother, Dorothy Emmett, Monica Wilson, Mary Douglas, Sally Falk Moore, Barbara Myerhoff, Natalie Zemon Davis, and me. What are the meanings of this matrilineage, the relationship of Woman and women, and the reasons of Turner’s unreason?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-123
Number of pages9
JournalAnthropology and Humanism
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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