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Betwixt and Between
v.2 | Embracing Liminality
To move from point A to point B requires a passage of transition.
Anthropologist Victor Turner called this space in between the “liminal.” It is a space that is neither here, nor there, instead situated in the messy, ambiguous, transformative middle.
“Liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon” (Turner, 1969).
The liminal zones Turner highlights both: a) defy easy categorization into binaries; and b) are ripe with possibility. In our strategic work at Blumline, we embrace these qualities of the liminal deliberately—to produce surprising and innovative ideas and outcomes.
For us, the creative process itself is a liminal zone. It is the space between naming the need and discovering the solution. It is a zigzagging, twirling dance from starting gate to finish line, hardly linear.
If we arrive with fixed answers and one-size-fits-all remedies, then the objective is dead-on-arrival. If instead we open up to possibility, ambiguity, and change, then we find opportunities and solutions much more nuanced and meaningful.
One stage in our process in which the liminal looms large is synthesis, or sensemaking. Challenging all who cross its waters, swimming in a vast sea of data collected, we must embrace transition as we sift, question our previously held views and hypotheses, and often accept a new reality—hardly a comfortable process. It is tempting to breeze past this digestion and gestation phase precisely because it is disorienting, awkward, and uncomfortable.
But the ultimate mistake is to sacrifice this constructive process in service of “quick decision-making.” When we do this, the work is built on faulty foundations. Instead, we create space to reflect on the transition, integrate the new, release the old, redefine the frame, and recalibrate the operative principles. Only the most vital information takes root, allowing us to form a new, firm foundation. The process requires patience, space, and diversity of thought.
Embracing liminality means acknowledging that the interstitial, emergent moments are both informative and transformational, serving as a bridge between idea and product, or revolution and systemic change. It is to curiously search for answers to complex problems, rather than fearfully constrict to the familiar, fast, or easy. When we reframe our focus in this way and allow the liminal to drive, rather than our discomfort, we are able to metabolize new insight. From this fresh perspective we become more generative, clear, and confident. When we make space for uncertainty and allow time to slow down, we actually speed up.
Betwixt and between,
What is your experience of living and working liminally? (Or running away from the liminal?) In your personal life? In your craft? In business? We’d love to hear how the liminal shapes you and the worlds in which you move.
“There’s a swirling, kaleidoscopic, free-associative experience on the edge of your mind. You’ll find it in the space right between awake and asleep, where your meandering consciousness mixes memory and thought with visionary imagery.”
— Jennifer Dumpert, Liminal Dreaming
Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, American inventor Thomas Edison and German physicist Albert Einstein each tapped into this creatively fruitful liminal space between waking and sleeping, called hypnagogia, with a similar method. It’s fairly simple, and might just spark your next big idea.
It’s easy to fall into a groove, and to settle into one way of writing, researching, analyzing or designing. But sometimes slipping between known ways of inquiry and expression allows for new perspectives. It can launch us from a rut both personally and professionally.
Adrie Kusserow says: “Poetry is a tool I use to get into the very multidimensional middle of where I need to be as an anthropologist. It allows me to be firmly in the moment, in motion, in process, in the very thick of things, at the heart of Indra’s net.”
In other words, writing liminally, equips us to “think otherwise, to bend our concepts to the concepts of others.” It allows us to inhabit the borderlands of our collective imagination, and to accommodate diverse ways of knowing.
—Crumpled Paper Boat, edited by Anand Pandian and Stuart MacLean
Laurie Anderson has been exploring the liminal throughout her long and diverse career. In her 2019 album, Songs from the Bardo, she, along with Tibetan multi-instrumentalist Tenzin Choegyal, and composer and activist Jesse Paris Smith, guides listeners on a journey through an 80-minute ebb and flow of the bardo space between life and death.
“The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae ("threshold people") are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between.”
— Victor Turner, Liminality & Communitas
We are an insights-based innovation studio that partners with mission-driven change makers. Through human science, we design smarter, kinder, wiser futures—for net positive impact. If that’s you, please drop us a note to share your vision, question, or challenge.
Follow us @theblumline for more liminal practices, processes and perspectives.