The concept of liminality emerged during the 20th century through works written in three disciplines: ethnography, architecture, and cultural anthropology. In all of these disciplines, liminality was defined as a state of being in-between. Arnold van Gennep first used the word in the book “Les Rites de Passage” (1908) to describe the second phase of a three-phased structure of rites: separation, transition, and reincorporation. For Gennep, an individual voluntarily launches themself into a disoriented state of liminality to transcend their former identity. In the 1950s, the concept entered architercture through the work of Aldo van Eyck, who expressed it through the geometry of circles and rectangles. The cultural anthropologist Victor Turner reintroduced liminality to anthropology in the 1974 essay, “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual,” where he described it as a psychosocial state subjectively experienced and expressed by an individual.


Al Shrbaji, S. (2020). On walking in derelict urban spaces: Experiencing liminality in a city. A Obra Nasce: Revista de Arquitetura e Urbanismo Da Universidade Fernando Pessoa, 14, 73–83.

Liminality, as a term, was coined in a dismantled timeline during the 20th century, by an ethnographer (Arnold van Gennep), an architect (Aldo van Eyck), and a cultural anthropologist (Victor Turner). All of whom described liminality as being a state of in-betweenness.

liminality contains polysemic and polyvalent effects, meaning it shape-shifts according to its referral, it became a non-structural structuralist term.

the neologism of liminality came with the ethnographer Arnold van Gennep’s “Les Rites de Passage” (1908)

Van Gennep drew the attention to liminality, as a new abbreviated form of an individual ́s deliberate and voluntary transition into a disoriented, intermediate state – through time amidst a ritual. This transitioning is rendered in a three-fold sequential structure. The structure synthesizes a three-phased order of rites, into which an individual – from any existing culture – transcends. From the liminal (transition) and what comes prior and after transcending into it, to a context, to a city, and then to a border, the order of phases emphasizes an in-betweenness performed within this procession.

Victor Turner, a cultural anthropologist, on the other hand, reintroduced liminality into anthropology in his essay, “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual” (1974). Turner stressed on the semantic part, which engages with the psychological state and behaviour of an individual, during the transitional phase. By that, he relatively suggests the existence of an anti-structure, which circles back to the non-structural- ity of liminality, making both terms alternatively associated.

liminality embodies a system that could be adequately linked to dissimilar, cohesive or conflicted, sources – ideas, meanings, movements, aspects, or systems.

“inbetween realm, which forms a third place, or threshold, that links as it separates two previously opposed conditions.” (Coleman, 2005, p.202)

Gennep, A., Vizedom, M., and Caffee G. (1960). The Rites of Passage. The University of Chicago Press.

Liminal stage

we “cannot pass from one [place] to the other without going through an intermediate stage.” (Gennep, et al., 1960, p. 1)

Rites of passage

“The rites of passage ultimately correspond to this fundamental necessity, sometimes so closely that they take the form of rites of death and rebirth.” (Gennep et al., 1960, p.182)

Turner, V. (1966). Liminality and Communatis. In: The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti Structure. Cornell University Press, pp. 94-130.

“liminal entities are neither here nor there…” (Turner, 1966, p. 94)

“liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness…to the wilderness…” (Turner, 1966, p. 95)

Turner, V. (1987). “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage”. In Mahdi, I.C., Foster, S. & Little, M. (eds.) Betwixt and Between: Patterns of and Feminine Initiation. Open Court.

all rites of transition are marked by three phases: separation, margin (or limen), and aggregation. The first phase of separation comprises symbolic behaviour signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure or a set of cultural conditions during the intervening liminal period, the state of the ritual subject is ambiguous; he [sic] passes through a realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state; in the third phase the passage is consummated (Turner, 1987, p. 47).