Liminality Theory

iceberg with small surface visible and huge visible underwater portion visible


Liminal: Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

“Physical disability functions in modern society as a status betwixt and between everyday assumptions about “normal” physical strength and functioning. This creates a situation of permanent liminality, or a failure to be incorporated, in hypermodern society especially in the economic marketplace and architectural construction of everyday life and movement. Turning to more traditional societies to interpret liminality and rites of passage helps contemporary people with disabilities interpret their social status and its problematic, powerful construction.” (1)

Normal Project Examples


Victor Turner and Murphy et. al. (2)

  • Looks at ritual process that separates and then reintegrates individuals into the social fabric after a period of liminality (betwixt and between)
  • Sees disability as a social suspension, a liminal state frozen in time


  • Doesn’t work with non-ritual marginalization (such as impairment-disability) because it cannot incorporate the lived experience of people with early onset impairments who do not experience a prior phase before they become liminal.


  1. Willett, J., Deegan, M.J. Liminality and Disability: Rites of Passage and Community in Hypermodern Society. (2001). Disability Studies Quarterly. Available online.
  2. Murphy, R.F., Scheer, J., Murphy, Y., Mack, R. (1988). Physical disability and social liminality: a study in the rituals of adversity. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Available online.

Published by Sarah Quinto

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