The Elementary Forms of Carnival: Collective Effervescence in Germany’s Rhineland


  • Yvonne Niekrenz



Carnival, Effervescence, Durkheim, Maffesoli


Carnival is a cyclical, recurrent festival in Germany’s Rhineland with several million revellers every year. This article explores the annual collective effervescence and asks how an entire region is turned “upside-down” for six days. Based on an ethnographic study focusing on street carnival, this analysis investigates the structuring frames of the festivity. Time and space limits and an altered presentation of the body play an important role in this ritual festivity. Carnival as a Rhenish corroboree consolidates group solidarity and affirms the imagined entity of society. Carnival is chaos and order, sacred and profane, and represents happiness as well as melancholy. The article argues that events like carnival are a chance to face up to ambivalence, an elementary experience of today’s social world.