Misrecognition is one of those important terms in anthropology that is so useful that you almost can’t help thinking about it all the time. Two of its most important proponents are Pierre Bourdieu and Catherine Bell who use it to explain ritual, or more precisely, ritualized practices.

In the classical example of misrecognition, gift giving functions at more than one level. Discursively, gift giving is seen as generous and self-sacrificing. In practice, it is also a way of establishing hierarchy, indebtedness, and social standing. Those who give gifts use them as a sort of symbolic capital in arranging relationships and establishing lines of authority. Gift giving only works, however, when it is thought about in terms of generosity, even though everyone knows, and learns to act accordingly, what it means when a gift is given. It fails when explicitly interpreted as establishing hierarchies or indebtedness,. Misrecognition is the term used to describe this phenomenon of describing a practice using one set of terms, but acting in accordance with another set. Yet, the ritualized action only works on the precondition of misrecognition; otherwise it fails.

Misrecognition is not subject to the critique of the anthropologist outsider decoding the insiders’ true motives because it is not based on knowledge available only to the outsider. Rather, it is a description of what the insider already knows and does in relationship to ritualized practices like gift-giving. Everyone knows that great offense can be taken if the receiver of the gift fails to respond properly, such as sending a thank you note or failing to reciprocate a dinner invitation.

So, outside of gift-giving, what rituals or ritualized practices are based on misrecognition in Mormonism? One example might be the discourses around “callings” and “service.” The discourses around asking people to serve in a calling are based around self-sacrifice, but they also are way of distributing social and symbolic capital. What others can you think of?

"Not a fan of Dan's site. MST might at least live the creed of its ..."

Thoughts on "Mormon Scholars Testify"
"The Mormon Archipelago hasn't been updated in ages. Most of the new blogs are missing."

We’re Moving!
"Will your new (old) domain be listed on Mormon Archipelago? That's usually where I find ..."

We’re Moving!
"History or ancient scripture aside, the "religion" I have been privileged to receive from them ..."

On Cruises, Cash, and BYU Religious ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    whoa! Slow down. One at a time with your suggestions.

  • http://faitpromotingrumor.wordpress.com John C.

    I think that the most obvious example in a Mormon context is tithing, which outsiders routinely see as the church taking money from it’s members and insiders view as a means of demonstrating personal devotion to God.

  • http://notoriousbiggins.blogspot.com austin

    Sometimes I feel like Temple attendance is an example of it, because everyone says you learn something new every time, but too often I don’t and thus feel like it acts more as a social marker of righteousness.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Thanks guys for the support!