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Folklore and Folklife Studies: The Discipline of Analyzing Traditions (May 2013): Performance and Communication

By Simon J. Bronner

Performance and Communication

The theory and philosophy of folklore and folklife studies are featured in volumes often dealing with the interrelation of tradition, performance, practice, and art.  A good place to start is with the paradigm shift in the discipline from an emphasis on the literary text to the context, communication, and performance of folklore events as advanced in Toward New Perspectives in Folklore, edited by Américo Paredes and Richard Bauman.  The volume serves as a prologue for twenty-first-century essay collections such as Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainments, edited by Richard Bauman; Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture, edited by Burt Feintuch; and Theorizing Folklore: Toward New Perspectives on the Politics of Culture, edited by Charles Briggs and Amy Shuman.

With the presentist ethnographic perspective of folklore as an event, the concept of tradition and its association with the past has been questioned and receives analytical attention from a host of leading folklorists contemplating its relation to ideas of the past and present in Tradition in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Trevor J. Blank and Robert Glenn Howard.  Other recent titles that explore the relation of tradition to folklore are Simon J. Bronner’s Explaining Traditions, Elliott Oring’s Just Folklore, Frank de Caro’s Folklore Recycled: Old Traditions in New Contexts, and The Individual and Tradition: Folkloristic Perspectives, edited by Ray Cashman, Tom Mould, and Pravina Shukla.  American folklorists such as Charles L. Briggs (Competence in Performance: The Creativity of Tradition in Mexicano Verbal Art), Linda Dégh (Narratives in Society: A Performer-Centered Study of Narration), John Miles Foley (The Singer of Tales in Performance), and Richard Bauman (Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative) focus on the artistic performance of expressive individuals and the documentation of communicating folklore to others in social interaction.  Another important principle is that folklore is transmitted because it carries meaning and serves functions probably not conveyed in other circumstances, such as conversation.  The most prominent advocate of applying psychoanalytic perspectives to the functions of traditions is Alan Dundes, who notably interprets folklore as a response to anxiety in The Meaning of Folklore.

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