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Public Folklore

Public Folklore

Robert Baron
Nick Spitzer
Roger D. Abrahams
Robert Baron
Robert Cantwell
Gerald L. Davis
Archie Green
Jim Griffith
Bess Lomax Hawes
Barbara Krishenblatt-Gimblett
Richard Kurin
Robert S. McCarl
Frank Proschan
Susan Roach
Daniel Sheehy
Steve Siporin
Nick Spitzer
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Public Folklore
    Book Description:

    A landmark volume exploring the public presentation and application of folk culture in collaboration with communities, Public Folklore is available again with a new introduction discussing recent trends and scholarship. Editors Robert Baron and Nick Spitzer provide theoretical framing to contributions from leaders of major American folklife programs and preeminent folklore scholars, including Roger D. Abrahams, Robert Cantwell, Gerald L. Davis, Archie Green, Bess Lomax Hawes, Richard Kurin, Daniel Sheehy, and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gim-blett. Their essays present vivid accounts of public folklore prac-tice in a wide range of settings-nineteenth-century world\'s fairs and minstrel shows, festivals, mu-seums, international cultural ex-change programs, concert stages, universities, and hospitals.

    Drawing from case studies, historical analyses, and their own experiences as advocates, field re-searchers, and presenters, the es-sayists recast the history of folk-lore in terms of public practice, while discussing standards for presentation to new audiences. They approach engagement with tradition bearers as requiring collaboration and dialogue. They critically examine who has the authority to represent folk culture, the ideologies informing these representations, and the effect upon folk artists of encountering revived and new audiences within and beyond their own communities. In discussions of the relationship between public practice and the academy, this volume also offers new models for integrating public folklore training within graduate studies.

    Robert Baron directs the Folk Arts Program at the New York State Council on the Arts and has been a non-resident Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Nick Spitzer is host and creator of public radio\'s American Routes and folklore professor at the University of New Orleans.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-316-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Cultural Continuity and Community Creativity in a New Century: Preface to the Third Printing
    (pp. vii-xx)
    Robert Baron and Nick Spitzer
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Public folklore is the representation and application of folk traditions in new contours and contexts within and beyond the communities in which they originated, often through the collaborative efforts of tradition bearers and folklorists or other cultural specialists. When the Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held before ten thousand people in Elko, Nevada, in the dead of winter; when several African American girls from the South Carolina Low Country are state folk arts program apprentices with a master Sea Grass basketmaker; when a scholar writes about the occupational traditions of fire fighters in the District of Columbia for colleagues and the...

  7. Part 1: Reflections and Directions

    • The Public, the Folklorist, and the Public Folklorist
      (pp. 17-28)

      How did folklorists arrive at the point at which academic and public folklore came to be distinguished? The question is significant insofar as the distinction is often made qualitatively as well as descriptively. Academic folklorists, from such a bias, have the luxury of dealing with the materials of tradition objectively, dispassionately, even scientifically. By implication, then, those who work directly with the general public debase the work to present it in a manner understandable to an audience that does not share the common culture of the performers. The elitist implications of viewing the problem in this way are obvious enough....

    • Mistaken Dichotomies
      (pp. 29-48)

      Even as the American Folklore Society nears its centennial, folklore as an autonomous academic discipline within the American university is less than forty years old. Much of the American debate over “applied folklore” in the period after World War II must therefore be examined in relation to a young academic discipline on the defensive. As Richard M. Dorson fought to establish folklore as an autonomous academic discipline, the discourse on applied folklore entered a new phase, for never before, not even during the activism of the New Deal, did the public sector confront so vociferous an opponent.

      Dorson was opposed...

    • Public Folklore’s Name: A Partisan’s Notes
      (pp. 49-64)

      The days slip into months, the years into decades. No longer do I venture with notebook or tape recorder to snare a song, to track a story. From time to time, young colleagues visit with cassette and camera. They ask variously about lobbying, labor lore, graphic art, discography, or vernacular music. I welcome such queries, but after each session, I find myself concerned with matters of memory and rationalization, hindsight and partisanship. How does one sequence thoughts as words flow endlessly into the little cassette’s mechanism?

      Writing offers some chance at control—one selects a rhetorical style or seeks a...

    • Happy Birthday, Dear American Folklore Society: Reflections on the Work and Mission of Folklorists
      (pp. 65-74)

      As I have had occasion to remark elsewhere, every dog indeed has his day, and everybody, whether human or institutional, gets a birthday every year. No exceptions are allowed.

      And when one hundred birthdays have mounted up, some especial attention must be paid. Just staying intact for that long is an achievement all by itself; getting anything done beyond simple survival is positively commendable. The American Folklore Society has done a good many things during its century of existence. I should like to concentrate my observations here upon its signal achievements in the proliferation of folklorists.

      I myself am a...

  8. Part 2: Metaphors and Methods of Practice

    • Cultural Conversation: Metaphors and Methods in Public Folklore
      (pp. 77-104)

      I began in-depth folklore fieldwork with Creole zydeco musicians in 1975.¹ Being there in rural French Louisiana, trying to communicate my reasons for being there, caused me to rethink my purposes as a folklorist. I could no longer imagine writing or thinking in accordance with the scientistic formalism then au courant in the field’s academic track. Being unwilling to perform in the code of insular scholarship was consistent with my motivation in becoming a folklorist: a desire to experience, understand, and share with others cultural aesthetics beyond those of my rural New England background. I valued my relationships to traditional...

    • “So Correct for the Photograph”: “Fixing” the Ineffable, Ineluctable African American
      (pp. 105-118)

      In “A Photograph: Lovers in Motion,” a play in a collection of theater pieces by African American poet Ntozake Shange, the character Sean David boasts:

      i realize yr not accustomed to the visions of a man of color who has a gift/ but fear not/ i’ll give it to ya a lil at a time, i am only beginning to startle/ to mesmerize & reverse the reality of all who can see. i gotta thing bout niggahs/ my folks/ that just wont stop/ & we are so correct for the photograph/ we profile all the time/ styling/ giving angle &...

    • Public Folklore: A Glimpse of the Pattern That Connects
      (pp. 119-144)

      In spite of the increase in public folklore jobs, there are few theoretical discussions of the assumptions that lie behind this important aspect of cultural work.¹ The discussion that follows addresses this oversight by reaching out to a view of public folklore as it is actually carried out. I find that the insights of Gregory Bateson provide a useful framework in which to place this discussion, particularly his notion of the “pattern that connects” Bateson 1979:13–15). I take Bateson’s pattern to include all living things that have developed time-tested abilities to respond to and comment upon a changing environment....

    • Field Work and Social Work: Folklore as Helping Profession
      (pp. 145-158)

      Folklorists have traditionally been concerned with folklore of two primary kinds; on the one hand are leisure-time activities such as music, song, tale or ritual, festival, and prayer. On the other hand are subsistence-related activities such as crafts, folk agriculture, folk housing, occupational traditions, and foodways. These realms of human activity and artistic creativity by no means exhaust the scope of folklorists’ curiosity in the 1990s, but it is unarguable that they have long dominated the professional interest of folklorists. This preoccupation with a relatively small domain of human cultural activity has increasingly been challenged by innovative examinations of other...

    • The Journey of David Allen, Cane Carver: Transformations through Public Folklore
      (pp. 159-182)

      The effects of public folklife presentations on folk artists and their art have concerned numerous folklorists (Degh 1969; Carey 1976; Camp and Lloyd 1980). Georges and Jones (1980:151–52) cite several examples of folk artists, such as Huddie Ledbetter (“Leadbelly”): Alex Kellam, Maryland fisherman and storyteller; and Zsuzsuanna Palko, Hungarian storyteller, who have received public acclaim through folklorists’ presentation of their work. Other folklorists have voiced concern that the cultural intervention brought about through public folklore may undermine the authenticity of the folk tradition (Staub 1988; Joyce 1986a). In calling attention to the effects of such cultural intervention by public-sector...

    • Presenting Folklife in a Soviet-American Cultural Exchange: Public Practice during Perestroika
      (pp. 183-216)

      To the extent that the study and representation of folklore is an art, folklorists are artists. Folklorists try to shape their own practice as well as the presentations of others whose cultures they seek to represent. In this creative practice, ideas of folklore and folklife, authenticity, tradition, community, art, and performance have to be constructed, again and again, in variegated forms to audiences of scholars, the lay public, bureaucrats, government officials, and even the “folks” themselves (Staub 1988). Most familiar to scholars in the field are the monological constructions of folklore in books and journal articles, occasionally followed by review,...

    • Crossover Dreams: The Folklorist and the Folk Arrival
      (pp. 217-230)

      In the filmCrossover Dreams,¹ the sophisticated and socially aware Panamanian salsa musician Rubén Blades stars in the role of a frustrated salsa singer and songwriter who spends his nights running from one forty-dollar-a-show gig to another. The character he plays is talented and relatively successful at what he does, but as hard as he tries, he cannot “make it big.” He eventually yields to the temptation of a recording company agent’s promises of big money and instant fame. All he must do is “cross over” to the vogues of mainstream non-Latin pop music. He changes his name, appearance, and...

    • Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds: Some Thoughts on the Training of Public Folklorists
      (pp. 231-242)

      What we call public folklore seems to have always been an optional aspect of the professional folklorist’s work, but it is only recently that it has become a viable, full-time professional specialty. Public folklore jobs vary widely, from intensely bureaucratic positions with state agencies to short-term contract fieldwork leading towards a festival, exhibition, or other presentation. Public folklorists supervise granting processes, engage in cultural mediation, initiate and organize presentational events, and do fieldwork and a host of other activities. Many public folklorists work for arts agencies, historical societies, or other branches of state or local government; others, myself included, work...

  9. Part 3: Recovering a History of Public Folklore

    • The Foundations of American Public Folklore
      (pp. 245-262)

      The study of folklore was initiated by a group of scholar-scientists concerned with large public questions. The American Folklore Society, the national body that arose to carry out this study, was formed in the late 1880s by individuals who had achieved a high sense of moral endeavor before and during the Civil War and who carried this social perspective into the discussion of technological and industrial modernity. The study of folklore emerged out of an environment in which the uses of knowledge to address questions of life quality was in constant discussion.

      While no common perspective on the moral dimension...

    • Feasts of Unnaming: Folk Festivals and the Representation of Folklife
      (pp. 263-306)

      Folk festivals are occasions in which folk culture and official culture embrace one another: the one to win honor from the attention of cultural institutions allied with education, science, commerce, or government, the other to disseminate the influences of folk culture into the popular imagination and, by way of advocating and sustaining it, into the commercial marketplace or public policy. A folk festival thus reframes folk culture as an element of a legitimate, polite, or elite culture, typically under the auspices of institutions representing these interests—a school, university, or museum, a municipality, a historical site, a public park—and...

    • Postwar Public Folklore and the Professionalization of Folklore Studies
      (pp. 307-338)

      Folklorists are ever aware of boundaries—crossing cultural boundaries in the field, dancing between disciplinary boundaries in the university, reaffirming or blurring boundaries between public and academic realms. During the emergence of folklore as an autonomous academic discipline in the postwar period, the relationship between its practice in the university and in nonacademic, public settings became a matter of great concern. Discourse among folklorists about this issue was of essential importance in defining the boundaries of the practice of folklore at a critical time in the molding of our discipline’s professional identity.

      The period between the end of World War...

    • Public Folklore: A Bibliographic Introduction
      (pp. 339-370)

      The story of the destruction of the Ephraimites is an ancient example of the application of folklore, and it puts the history, literature, and dilemmas of public folklore¹ in perspective. In the story, knowledge of the linguistic habits of one group is applied by another group to destroy the first. Surely, that was not what the members of the American Folklore Society Committee on Applied Folklore had in mind. In 1971, they defined applied folklore as “the utilization of search methodologies of folklorists in activities or programs meant to ameliorate contemporary social, economic, and technological problems” (Byington 1989). But why...