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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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As I Please: Is Lockdown A Liminal Space?

Learning to be in our new normal ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 07/04/2021 @ 8:00AM

So we're slowly coming out of lockdown. How does that make you feel? Excited, anxious, relieved, curious or what? We're also taking part in the biggest social experiment in our history, probably since the Black Death ...

Entrances and liminal spaces can and are deliberately designed to evoke strong emotions!

Entrances and liminal spaces can and are deliberately designed to evoke strong emotions!

copyright: chuttersnap /

This was an experiment we didn't ask for nor consent to participate in, and we can't opt-out as there is nowhere else to go. An experiment where some other people's reactions seem bizarre, not how we should behave, not the social norm.

"How dare they leave their litter strewn
all over our beaches and parks!"

How dare they talk about or even hold Covid parties or ones with even more distasteful quasi-jocular phrases that I won't repeat here. Why does the biggest concern for many people appear to be how soon can they go abroad for their holiday when some people are still struggling to feed their children or even just breathe.

I don't pretend to have an answer to those questions, but it got me thinking about what part the concept of liminality plays. Liminality, liminal space and being in limbo are used in slightly different ways in lots of professional disciplines, but all coming from the Latin root 'limen' meaning threshold. A time and place to deal with the transition from a usual normal to a new normal.

In architecture, it refers literally to the structures that link one usable space to another, usually a hallway or corridor. Even if designed to be purely functional, it is not a neutral space.

Do you remember your first day at a new school or your first day at work? How did you feel as you opened the door and stood in the hallway awaiting instructions not just where to go, but how to be as well? Entrances and liminal spaces can and are deliberately designed to evoke strong emotions. Think of the entrance to the Natural History Museum in London or the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

In terms of the current lockdown think about our front doors where we usually welcome friends and visitors. This has now shifted from a welcoming threshold to a barrier keeping others out and protecting or imprisoning those within.

In the social and psychological disciplines, the liminal space is the mental threshold, the transition, the place betwixt and between an old way of being and a new. No man's land or time out. This time out seems necessary for us to deal with the emotional toll of making such a change. All cultures have traditional Rites of Passage that include liminal space A time when family, friends and community leaders help the person make that shift to a new normal.

"Think of 18th birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, weddings or bar mitzvah!"

Not so much the formal ceremony, but the space around it. The relaxing of the social rules; think hen night or stag party. Kate Fox in her wonderful book Watching the English makes the point that the night out or the holiday is also a liminal space where the restrictions of normal behaviour are released, and where better to do that than far away from where you will be judged? A modern American version is summed up in the expression, "What's happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".

One of the problems is, of course, that each person then sets their own personal boundaries for what is socially acceptable and many push those boundaries to the limits. Maybe that's at least part of the reason we get the beach covered in litter and people kicking off about not being able to go abroad for their holidays.

The upside of liminal space and the reduction of social controls associated with it, is that it lets us experiment and try things out in a safe place. We have all witnessed that within our own lives or heard anecdotes from others during lockdown. I've lost count of the times I've heard people talk about how they and their families use the Internet more to talk to each other, playing games, and taking up new past times.

One of the anxieties that I think we all share is what shape is our 'new normal' going to take? The message from the Public Health professionals is, "We will have to learn to live with COVID-19". So, what will be acceptable and what will not? How do we make sure we're not left in limbo, in a continuing state of anxiety?

"What if we don't know how to 'be' in the new normal?"

As we inch our way out of lockdown, at least in the UK, maybe we should be tolerant as some of us continue to take time out, release our anxieties and use our social network to play. We must develop new codes on how to be in a society that has to manage COVID-19 as part of our new normal.

Until next time ...



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If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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