27 Jun The Community Dictionary | Episode 7 – Rituals
Welcome to the Community Dictionary. This series of articles will feature the English version of the Italian spoken podcast hosted by Marta Mainieri, and produced by Produzioni Dal Basso.
In their well known article “Brand Community” back in 2001, Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn included rituals within the very definition of community. Indeed, according to them, a community is considered as such if it shares a sense of belonging, reciprocity, rituals, and traditions. The latter, they wrote, “are fundamental to a community because they serve to strengthen bonds among members, to reaffirm collective values, and to mark milestones in the community experience.”
This idea remains true today, as philosopher Byung-Chul Han, in his book “The Disappearance of Rituals,” appeals to them precisely to revitalize the sense of community that, he argues, has now been lost. He argues that rituals are disappearing in our increasingly digitized and atomized society and proposes their recovery as a “practice with the potential to relieve society of its collective narcissism.”
A new kind of rituals
We discussed this topic in the first episode of this dictionary: Traditional communities, along with their old rituals and symbolisms, are no longer here. However, we observe the birth and growth of new communities emerging from the same digital transformation that Han describes in his book. These new communities, although they share a sense of belonging and what we consider rituals among their members, are quite distinct from those of the past. They no longer involve grand ceremonies filled with symbols and re-enactments, nor do they revolve around out-of-the-ordinary behavior or evocative presentations designed to captivate members’ attention. Instead, the rituals of new communities are simple experiences that involve members at repeated intervals and, in doing so, mark the habits and traditions of the community itself. These moments, mainly facilitated by the community’s enablers, serve to perpetuate culture and awareness. Their regular cadence allows the community’s life to be set in rhythm.
Welcome newcomers rituals
Indeed, the rituals of today’s communities can be simple or complex and occur daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. Depending on the case, they can also serve different functions. For example, one of the most common rituals is related to newcomers. Many digital-driven communities prepare a welcome post at the beginning of each week or month to invite newcomers to introduce themselves. This simple gesture helps them feel welcomed in the group while also fostering a sense of responsibility among existing members who participate in the ritual by offering greetings and exchanging jokes. Physical community gatherings, known as “welcome newcomers” events, also incorporate a similar ritual. These rituals are sometimes deemed so significant that the community organizers entrust active members the task of welcoming newcomers and extending their hospitality. Some communities even celebrate the welcoming moment with small gifts, such as welcome packs or small gadgets.
Another typical ritual in today’s communities is the meetup: recurring meetings that often take place monthly, either in-person or online. These gatherings are usually initiated by community organizers but can also be arranged by members themselves. Meetups serve two primary purposes: to familiarize members with one another and to foster discussions and relationships among them, as well as to facilitate peer learning and knowledge exchange. To attract members, these meetings often include formative activities and opportunities for experience-sharing, although the most significant moments tend to be in person meetings with other participants. Often these gatherings also follow a structured rituality and use the symbolic image of the brand to make the experience more memorable and replicable.
New communities also organize rituals to celebrate the community itself and its members. These can range from small, easily organized rituals to more significant and challenging ones. For instance, telling the stories of the most active members is a common small ritual that holds substantial symbolic value. These stories can take various forms, such as posts, podcasts, blog articles, or even flyers displayed on physical bulletin boards. They serve as examples, stimulate involvement, and reward the most active members by recognizing their efforts.
However, the most demanding and significant ritual is the gathering. This ritual is the epitome of community events, typically organized only by large communities. Once a year, members come together for 2 or 3 days for exclusive experiences that blend playful and entertaining moments with meetings, shared experiences, debates, and more. These gatherings serve to celebrate the community, its values, and the sense of togetherness, but they also provide opportunities for members to forge new connections, share experiences, and strengthen their bond with the organization. After attending these gatherings, community members return home with enthusiasm, new relationships, information, inspiration, anecdotes, and stories to share in the following year. Often, they also receive new gadgets or mementos.
Organizing a gathering requires substantial effort, but all rituals demand care and commitment to create a unique and unforgettable experience. Furthermore, as in the past, it is essential to involve the entire community in the preparation of rituals. Members, then as now, must participate in the organization to feel engaged as active participants.
In conclusion, rituals still exist and remain significant for the new communities that are emerging today. Designing rituals requires the same level of care as in the past, although the context, cadence, and variety have undergone extensive changes. While much of their symbolic significance may have diminished, their value and ability to foster cohesion are still present. Ultimately, everything else is simply a matter of form.
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