From family traditions, through weddings and funerals, to state ceremonies and media events, rites and ceremonies mark socially important occasions, define beginnings and endings, and aid social transitions. Ritual and ceremonial as formal modes of conduct are equally ubiquitous, appearing in everything from modes of talk and rules of politeness to elaborate protocols for events of state. Ritual and rite, ceremonial and ceremony are symbolic social actions, and thus modes of communication, that implicate individuals in the social order, creating realities while expressing ideas and attitudes about them. This text combines bibliographic essay and theory construction to provide a perspective on ritual as a special and powerful form of communication. Part One is a critical review of definitions of ritual from anthropology, sociology, communication studies and other literatures, ending with a theoretical essay on the contributions of communication theory to understanding ritual.
Part Two is a critical review of the uses of the term ritual in communication studies literature, covering mediated rituals and ceremonies, ritualistic media uses and audience activities, political, rhetorical and civic rituals, rituals of everyday interaction, rituals of organizational life and finally, a conception of communication itself as ritual.
Eric W. Rothenbuhler is Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University. He was previously Director of Graduate Media Studies at New School University (2001-04) and on the faculty of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa (1985-2001). At Iowa he was an affiliated faculty member with American Studies and faculty advisor to the student radio station, KRUI, 89.7 FM, where he also had a weekly radio show on the history of rhythm and blues. He earned his doctorate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 1985 and the BA and MA from Ohio State University. He has been a visiting faculty member at the University of Kansas (twice), Scholar in Residence at the Center for Advanced Study in Telecommunication at Ohio State University, and has participated in doctoral workshops and teaching seminars at the Universities of Dortmund, Ljubljana, and Oslo. Rothenbuhler's research and teaching address communication systems, ranging from ritual through community to media industries. His dissertation research on the living room celebration of the 1984 Olympic Games provided the first statistically representative evidence for television audience behavior and attitudes consistent with the theory of media events. This work was published in Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Mass Communication, and other outlets. His work on decision-making processes and industrial market structures in the radio and music businesses, in a series of articles beginning in 1982 in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Media, Culture, and Society, and several books, is also widely cited. This work continues with research on American radio in the 1950s in collaboration with Tom McCourt, including an article in The Radio Journal and a forthcoming book manuscript. His essay "Symbolic disorder and repair after witnessing 9/11" is being translated and published in France, as was an earlier essay with John Peters, "The reality of construction." Part of his work on the posthumous career and reputation of the American blues musician Robert Johnson is forthcoming in a book chapter called "The strange career of Robert Johnson's records." Rothenbuhler is the author of Ritual communication: From everyday conversation to mediated ceremony (1988, Sage), which has been translated to Polish (2004), and co-editor (with Greg Shepherd) of Communication and Community (2001, LEA). He was Review and Criticism Editor for the Journal of Communication (1997-99) and author or co-author of over 50 articles, chapters, essays, or reviews on media, ritual, community, media industries, popular music, and communication theory.