The sociology of the limit: Reformulating the question of migration through Van Gennep

Orit Gazit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article situates Van Gennep’s Rites de passage in the contemporary field of migration studies, arguing that his second and third chapters allow us to reformulate how we conceptualize contemporary migratory encounters. Rather than reading Van Gennep’s classical text through the prevalent Turnerian lens of “liminality” in migration, I reread it as offering a conceptualization of migration as deriving from society’s establishment on a delimited piece of earth, constituting itself against and in relation to its own limits. Society’s limit then becomes the center of social inquiry, while the strangers at the gate are seen as an integral part of these fundamental relations between a social grouping and the delimited space it occupies. The article further suggests that Van Gennep’s sociology of the limit offers the field of migration studies three practical analytical contributions: (a) its notion of the multiplicity of limits and sublimits emerging throughout the migratory encounter; (b) its emphasis on the sanctification of the limit, which opens up the possibility of analyzing the relations between migration and emotions; and (c) its pointing to the potential cycle of dread elicited by this sanctification—a notion highly relevant to analyzing contemporary migratory encounters.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)266-282
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Cycle of dread
  • Van Gennep
  • migration
  • sanctity
  • sociology of the limit
  • territorial passage
  • the stranger


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