Some life transitions are difficult and prolonged, such as becoming an independent adult, forming a family, or adopting healthy consumption habits. Permanent liminality describes transitions that can span years and even a lifetime with no anticipated end. To understand how consumers are caught in permanent liminality, we examine how Pentecostal converts consume religious services in their difficult transition from the secular “world” to Pentecostalism. We draw on the concept of in/dividual personhood to explain how the Pentecostal dividual is co-constituted in an endless movement between the undesired “worldly” in/dividual and the contiguous incorporation into the desired Pentecostal in/dividual and structure. Pentecostals’ permanent liminality thus involves ongoing cycles of separation and incorporation within zones of indeterminacy, in which neither separation nor incorporation is ever completed. This theoretical framework explains the unfinished transition of Pentecostal converts as contested individuals. We extend this theoretical explanation for future research on liquid modernity and consumers caught in permanent liminality.
In rites of passage, people transition from one social position to another, such as when students become graduates or immigrants become citizens (Rook 1985). Van Gennep (1909/1960) originally proposed that all rites of passage have three phases: rites of separation, rites of transition (liminality), and rites of incorporation. Many transitions follow this pattern, and goods and services often assist in these rites (Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989). For example, some women elect to have breast augmentation surgery to transition into womanhood (Schouten 1991). Vietnamese families exchange elaborate gifts during marriage rituals when single men and women transform into couples (Nguyen and Belk 2013). Asante families invest in funeral services to enhance the social status of deceased loved ones as they transition into the afterlife (Bonsu and Belk 2003).