Ritual Change and Social Transformation in Migrant Societies

by Hans-Georg Soeffner (Volume editor) Dariuš Zifonun (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 142 Pages


Migration involves change of geographical place, social relations and cultural habits. This volume brings together contributions from an international group of scholars including studies of ritual change and social transformation in Singapore, Germany and the US.
In situations of change, individuals as well as social groups mobilize rituals to reaffirm a sense of identity. Usually thinking of rituals as fixed sets of symbolic behaviour, handed down through generations, migration forces a fresh look at rituals: that they are open to change and adjustment as well as means of social transformation. The authors show the challenge of the transformation of symbolic behaviour for those who experience spatial and social change. They emphasise that ritual change is also common when cultures become intercultural.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Content
  • Preface
  • Fragile Pluralism
  • Migration and Religion: Beyond Ethnic Community and Ethclass
  • Modernity and Ritual Transformations in Chinese Ancestor Worship
  • Migration and Reconfiguration of Religious Rituals: The Case of Iranians in Southern California
  • The Topos of Cultural Diversity: On the Communicative Construction of ‘Intermediate Worlds’ of Migrant Reality
  • Intercultural Stereotypes: Ethnic Inequality as a System of Social Order in the Soccer Milieu

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Hans-Georg Soeffner/Dariuš Zifonun


Social scientists have long shown an interest in the patterns of social order that emerge in countries and regions in which migrants make their new homes. Today’s societies and their social structures are defined by the coexistence of characteristics associated with nation-states as well as ‘world society’. These patterns of social order are, on the one hand, the product of migration, on the other hand they have an effect on the conditions under which societies process the experience of migration.

Put differently, modern societies do not constitute closed entities. International patterns of migration, electronic mass media, consumer goods and not least interwoven global economic production have in broad sections of societal life put into question the division of the world into nation-states. On the other hand, there has been an observable persistence of institutions related to nation-states, as well as national patterns of perception and interpretation. For example, within the educational system and in the entire field of social security, no institutional alternatives have emerged that would be able to take on the regulatory and executive function of the nation-state. Collective senses of belonging and of solidarity (so-called ‘collective identities’) are also, despite all political efforts to mold transnational orientations, primarily tied to the nation. Just as the simultaneity of manifestations of the nation-state and ‘world society’ cannot be ignored, it is also clear that they appear in entirely different combinations and that quite different new forms of social structures have resulted from their mutual interaction. Differences can be identified between countries, but also at the level of different ‘social worlds’.

The goal of this collection of analytical essays is to identify typical social patterns of order employed to cope with the consequences of migration, to identify national specificities and international commonalities, and finally, from a theoretical perspective, to arrive at concepts which enable us to theorize the phenomenon of how societies cope with migration. All the contributions focus on how social orders are constructed in relation to long-term migratory movement that result in a great number of persons changing their location, sometimes for a long period, sometimes temporarily. It is their shared aim to reconstruct these patterns of the newly established social structures, which from a sociological perspective can be understood as a societal solution to the problem of constructing a social order within societies with significant immigration. Thus, the contributions in this ← 7 | 8 → volume do not concentrate on political discourse or journalistic debates on the consequences of migration. Instead, they present empirical studies of the processes of interaction and the construction of social structures that actually occur within various social worlds.

Migration involves change – not merely a change of geographical place but also one of social relations and cultural habits that once were taken for granted. In situations of change, individuals as well as social groups mobilize rituals in order to gain and reaffirm a sense of self and identity. At first sight, this ritual affirmation appears paradoxical: we usually think of rituals as rather fixed sets of symbolic behaviour, handed down through generations. How could something old help in coping with new situations, new relations and new problems? Migration, however, forces us to take a fresh look at what rituals are: that they are guided by tradition, open to change and adjustment as well as means of social transformation. When we turn our attention to ritual change as it is involved in migration, we realize that the transformation of symbolic behaviour is challenging for those who experience spatial and social change and that it is a source of conflict and negotiation. At the same time, ritual change is something quite normal when old and new mix and cultures become intercultural. And at times, we even witness the invention of new rituals that are composed of fragments from different cultural systems.

The volume brings together contributions from an international group of scholars from Japan, Singapore and Germany with a joined interest in the study of intercultural spheres of contact. It includes studies of ritual change and social transformation in Singapore, Germany and the US, involving migrants from China, Turkey and Iran.

Hans-Georg Soeffner starts out with a description of the emergence of pluralism within the process of globalization and the impact of this development upon individuals’ communication and the definitions of the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’. The author illustrates the pitfalls of the human tendency to view the world from an ethnocentric perspective and with the corresponding attitude. He argues that in ‘open societies’, successful citizens will be capable of recognising and articulating distinctions between individuals, as well as between groups, beliefs, lifestyles and attitudes. These citizens must also be aware and capable of adapting for their purposes the full repertoire of language games and role games in their social world, in order to perceive and utilise comprehensive systems such as frameworks for cooperation. These skills will help them implement ‘maxims of communication’ and ‘existential hypotheses’.

Dariuš Zifonun presents an assessment of the ways in which Turkish migrants in Germany organise their everyday as well as religious live. He argues that their ← 8 | 9 → life styles and their religious behaviour are highly individualized and that the milieus they form are fundamentally post-traditional in nature.

Tong Chee Kiong scrutinizes ancestor worship among the Chinese in Singapore. He convincingly shows how the changing structure of Chinese social organization corresponds to changed patterns of religious ritual practice. Both have become largely family centered. While this results in numerous transformations in ritual practices, the functions of these rituals have not changed.

Kenji Kuroda and Atsuko Tsubakihara take on the dynamism of the Muharram rituals among Iranian migrants in the Greater Los Angeles area. They observe a change in the ritual form but more importantly, find that, as a consequence of globalisation and the particular social situation of Iranian migrants in present-day America, the whole symbolic system of religious rituals in this migrant milieu has been transformed

Bernt Schnettler, Bernd Rebstein and Maria Pusoma address the topos of cultural diversity and the role it plays in the ‘communicative mediation milieu’ that can be found in many German cities. Their analysis of the Munich International Summer Festival reveals that this milieu ritually gathers around the highly integrative but fundamentally insubstantial idea of ‘unity in diversity’.

Finally, in his closing article, Dariuš Zifonun demonstrates how the ritualized exchange of intercultural stereotypes serves as means for organizing intercultural contact in the German world of soccer. The communication of stereotypes between migrants and autochthonous populations is a driving force of the negotiation of ethnic inequality in and well beyond this social world.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Migration cultural habits identity social relations
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 142 pp., 9 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Hans-Georg Soeffner (Volume editor) Dariuš Zifonun (Volume editor)

Hans-Georg Soeffner is Professor Emeritus at the University of Konstanz and Head of Research Area Interculturality at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI Essen). Dariuš Zifonun is Professor of Sociology at the University of Marburg.


Title: Ritual Change and Social Transformation in Migrant Societies
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144 pages