• Sarah

Phase 1- Theme: Tradition

Updated: May 5, 2019


Exploring the topic

Definition (Sketchbook p. 47 and folder)


The definition of tradition is interesting, Google defines it as "the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on this way". Professor Edward Shils', Professor of Social Thought and Sociology at The University of Chicago, however gives more considerations to the idea of tradition in his book - Tradition. Through this he demonstrates the breath of the definition.

  • a belief/behaviour passed down within a group/society with symbolic meaning/special significance with origins in the past

  • to give for safekeeping

  • taught by one generation to the next, and are performed in the present

  • can be habit, ritual or culture


Definition and origins

Finding visual references of tradition was quite difficult, this resulted in my finding visual examples of tradition in practice.


Visual research

When I think of tradition, cultural tradition is the first thing that comes to mind, events and practices that are woven into communities. This led me to explore some case studies of tradition.


Case study: La Tomatina (Folder)


La Tomatina is a festival held annually in the Spanish town of Buñol. Its customs include the worlds biggest tomato fight and generally partying. It dates back to 1945, a relatively new tradition, which stemmed from another annual parade in Buñol. The parade constituted of notable people in the community, however in 1945 a group of young people joined in and accidentally knocked one of them over and a right ensued. In retaliation the youth grabbed some tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall and threw them at the man until it was broken up by police. They returned the following year and started another tomato fight using their own tomatoes, this continued for years with the local council trying to ban the event however the event grew year after year and become La Tomatina. The purpose of the even is pure entertainment and organically grew, now the tomatoes are driven in by vans and participants must crush tomatoes before throwing. Its an example of a tradition growing, with now an attendance of 30,000 to the small town.


La Tomatina

Case study: Day of the Dead/Día de Muertos (Folder)


Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and celebrates both life and death, in which families commemorate their deceased loved one, this stems from Mesoamerican culture. The customs include construction the altar, making offerings to the dead and the feature of the cempasúchiles. The festival is unique to Mexico, with it being seen as morbid or of traditional thoughts by the western world. It is positive example of tradition that is ingrained in their culture, yet isn't widely adopted by the rest of the world.


Day of the Dead

Family traditions


As well as cultural traditions, we have traditions amongst smaller groups such as families or friendship groups. They can be extremely personal and uphold importance to these groups. This can be seen with families cooking together, (i.e. Sunday roasts.) to the more contemporary Christmas tradition of Elf on The Shelf. The latter see's Santa's elves come visit children over December reporting on behaviour to Santa. These elves like to get up to mischief while in your home and have done some very silly things (like take a bubble bath in your sink!). This has been recently developed as a tradition in the UK (over 2-3 years) originating from America. It brings into question when does tradition become tradition?


Professor Edward Shils explains that "a minimum of two transmissions, over three generations are required for a pattern of believe or actions to be considered a tradition". Which would put Elf on the Shelf as something developing a tradition as opposed to being a defined one. Whereas families and friendships group view repeated activity, annually or over a period of time, as a tradition. Shils also explains that over generations traditions adapt and change, including minor changes with participants of major traditions unaware that is what they're doing.


Theres also the example of invention of tradition where a new practice implies a connection to the past rather than the present. Which can be mostly seen in architecture, such as the rebuilding of The Palace of Westminster in a gothic style. This forms part of nationalism and identity which can halter progressive change, for example in the case of fox hunting.


Families cooking together

Case study: Fox hunting (Folder)


The continued practice of tradition is upheld because of its status as tradition according to those in favour of it. The practice of fox hunting is known for being a practice of the upper class and rural communities. It involves foxhounds tracking, chasing, catching and killing of foxes while the hounds owner (master of hounds) and supporters follow on horseback, or sometimes foot. Although in the culling of foxes is needed for the farming industry, the activity of setting a group of foxhounds on the fox is seen as barbaric by its opposers. The Hunting Act 2004 tightened rules on what is and isn't allowed in fox hunting, however neither side is satisfied with illegal hunts taking place whilst saboteurs disrupt hunts.


In the case of fox hunting supporters stress that tradition is important to uphold and its a way of their life. Opposers of this demonstrate that tradition is a blockage of social change. This is demonstrated in the book - Rituals in Industrial Society where he states that tradition can form where "people become more attache to the basic way of life and values of the society or can lead people to make new demands on the way of life in their society".


Fox Hunting

Case study: Female Genital Mutilation (Folder)


Traditions can be viewed differently in different parts of the world, for example the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The practice originates in African countries and the Middle East and has connotations with religion and that the opinion that "socially an uncircumcised women cannot be accepted as a serious or responsible adult unless she is operated on". The natural female genital is deemed ugly by society in these countries. However the practice of mutilation has immediate and long-term health and phycological consequences for females. Yet it still takes place. There is differing opinion in the rest of the world with countries having laws banning the practice and even going as far as preventing it happening in other countries. This is because the tradition is being upheld in immigrant populations in Europe and the Americas, who send their daughters back to their homeland for the procedure. It shows a conflict in tradition with their being ethical consideration prevailing in this day and age.


FGM Map

Case study: The Bullingdon Club (Folder)


There are cases of society moving away tradition in favour of ethical upstanding and social change. This can be seen in the case of The Bullingdon Club, "an all-male elite dining society" (unaffiliated) at the University of Oxford. The exclusive club has deep routes, originating in 1780, its membership selective forming mainly from Eton alumni and select major public schools. However its reputation is scathing, its "become better known for its raucous, hard-drinking dinners and ostentatious displays of wealth". Countless press accounts report of dinner party drunken fights and trashing of restaurants with them to paying the restaurant off. Along with this was the speculated initiation task of burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man. The club is yet another example of wealth and its importance on traditions.


However, with previous membership being at the forefront of the Conservative party in recent years, Boris Johnson has stated he was "embarrassed about being a member and said Bullingdon was a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness". The press coverage and shame has left the traditional club in disrepute with a supposed decline membership to just 2 members, "no aspiring politician would be caught dead in Bullingdon blue" these days. It demonstrates a display of social change going against tradition.


The Bullingdon Club

This has identified my interests and a created a presentation structure for me:

  • Types of tradition

  • Its definition and origin

  • When does tradition become tradition?

  • Traditions implications on society