Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nomination and Name

Hi everyone,

I hope I’m doing this right. I’ve never created a blog before. I’m very sorry I missed our class tonight.

In light of our reading for the past week and in lieu of an opportunity to participate in discussion I wanted to share a few thoughts with you regarding the term “folklore” as a name for a subject, discipline and practice.

What happens if we consider “biology” alongside “folklore?” We can study biology and we can study folklore but we don’t usually think of biology as a thing in itself except as we think of it as a field of study. We don’t go out and collect biology as we do (or have thought we could do) with folklore. We do study the biology and folklore of various places and things. We understand that we are biological but, when it comes to folklore, we have thought that only some of us, sometimes, are “folklorical.” That seems to be changing with the shift in emphasis toward performance based studies.

I can understand the material importance of the debate over folklore as a name. Many people’s careers hinge on the field’s chances for funding at universities, and certain names, like folklore, can have a negative connotation. The authors we read for tonight point out the importance of folklore scholarship to other departments like anthropology, sociology and linguistics (and more recently to the business world) while folklore departments themselves seem to languish. Some of this languishing is attributable to the name but I wonder if the debate over the name improves this situation for university folklore departments. On one level I think it does. BKG quotes Raymond Williams on the value of explicating keywords not as a means of resolution but as a means of attaining an extra "edge of consciousness."

BKG concludes that the issue for folklore is “what our future might look like as a postdisciplinary formation informed by a distinctive intellectual history whose character we more fully embrace.” She says that: “As we bring that formation into focus, we will find its name.” I get the impression that she is saying we shouldn’t dwell on the name too much, that folklorists will do more for their field (whatever it ends up being called) if they get on with their work wherever they find it. She seems to be nominating folklore – not the name “folklore” but the entity – almost like nominating someone for office. From the perspective of the nominator the name of a candidate is not so significant as a belief in her abilities. If the candidate is a person named Folklore does she decide she can never be president because her name is odd? Does she have to change her name to get funding or to get elected? BKG seems to be saying that, if Folklore found herself nominated for president and got there by being who she is, she ought to consider her name but ultimately trust her nomination and look to her campaign. After all, her definition only exists, and is only going to continue to be effective, interactively.

I wonder if others read this the same way. I would be interested in hearing your perspectives if you have time to respond.


1 comment:

Deb said...

Thanks, Jeanne, for your post. For my part, I think we need to make a stronger effort with public relations. We should look for ways to educate the public on what we do, and emphasize the academic and public definition of folklore.

Regarding BKG's perspective-she was advocating moving away from the work folklore, although unlike Bendix did not offer an alternative. She certainly seemed to thing that the discipline was at an end. I truly wonder what she would say today. In some ways, folklore has suffered (U Penn being the most salient example), but it others, it is thriving--like here at GMU.