When we examine the relationship between interactional rituals and social distancing, we need to ask ourselves what type of ritual we are dealing with. Dániel Kádár (2013) distinguished 4 types of ritual in his book Relational Rituals and Communication: Ritual Interaction in Groups, namely:
Obviously, many of the rituals that make social distancing difficult relate to social rituals, that is, ritual behaviour which is accepted and expected by each person in a particular culture or society. Yet, social rituals are only the well known forms of ritual. As an example, let us consider in-group rituals such as meeting a group of friends for Friday evening hangouts, congregating at a street corner and having a cigarette, and so on. Arguably, for many young people, the lack of these rituals, as a result of social distancing, may be more unbearable than that of socially conventional rituals representing our ‘etiquette’. With the end of certain aspects of enforced social distancing in sight, the question of whether we should continue with these rituals may be beginning to loom. More importantly, if we choose to continue with these rituals in our daily lives, do we run the risk of upsetting others?
There are also many personal rituals that one must mention here. These rituals have many forms, including taking the dog for a walk at the same time every day (even if that particular time is not conducive to our need for social distancing), telling younger people the same anecdote (even if these youngsters try to avoid the conversation) and constantly touching our mobile phone while out walking (even though we know the risks of doing so without first washing our hands). Trespassing our own rituals may be every bit as difficult and miserable for us to endure as disobserving those rituals that connect us all together and which form part of our etiquette.
We will not discuss clinical rituals here, because to do so would fall outside the scope of this blog, but it is clear that people who suffer from compulsive symptoms are particularly vulnerable when others behave in an unexpected manner.
Ultimately, rituals continue to exist in our lives in many forms and an awareness of these forms may help us to understand why, for many people, social distancing can be rather vexing.
The Research featured in the blog was supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Momentum Grant (LP2017/5)