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Explaining Traditions

Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture

Simon J. Bronner
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Explaining Traditions
    Book Description:

    Why do humans hold onto traditions? Many pundits predicted that modernization and the rise of a mass culture would displace traditions, especially in America, but cultural practices still bear out the importance of rituals and customs in the development of identity, heritage, and community. In Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture, Simon J. Bronner discusses the underlying reasons for the continuing significance of traditions, delving into their social and psychological roles in everyday life, from old-time crafts to folk creativity on the Internet. Challenging prevailing notions of tradition as a relic of the past, Explaining Traditions provides deep insight into the nuances and purposes of living traditions in relation to modernity. Bronner's work forces readers to examine their own traditions and imparts a better understanding of raging controversies over the sustainability of traditions in the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3407-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Prologue: Beginning with Tradition
    (pp. 1-12)

    In this book I propose to make sense of tradition. My approach counters the hasty academic relegation of tradition tononsense, or the supposed tyranny of the archaic, pastoral past that inexplicably has hung around to the present cosmopolitan day. Well into the modern age, banner-bearers for progress have declared the hindrance of tradition swept away, but the trouble is that despite these pronouncements, tradition is still an ever-present force to be reckoned with—and that persistence merits explanation.

    Considering tradition’s importance in the here and now, questions also arise whether it really impedes advancement as much as many pundits...

  6. 1 Defining Tradition: On the Meaning and Politics of a “Handy” Concept
    (pp. 13-62)

    Pick up a paper. There you are likely to read columnists who express astonishment that traditions associated with “the way things were” persist, no less get nurtured by folks today. These reporters immersed in and, indeed, promoting events new and now take pen in hand to account for a supposedly improbable situation of a traditional turn. Basing their bewildered reaction on the assumption that modernity sweeps away the past, chroniclers of the present imply that tradition needs to be displaced rather than adapted in order for society to move forward. Representative of this attitude is a headline in the venerable...

  7. 2 Explaining Tradition: On Folk and Folkloristic Logic
    (pp. 63-92)

    Not long after antiquarian William Thoms coined the termfolklorein 1846, to spur the collection of British “manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, etc., of the olden time,” fellow Englishman Edwin Sidney Hartland clarified—indeed, encouraged—the professional pursuit of folklore as first the “study of tradition” and then the “science of tradition” (Thoms 1965; Hartland 1894–1896, 1968). For Thoms and Hartland, swept up in a rush toward industrial capitalism and the rule of scientific reasoning, tradition emblematized an authority and logic characterizing communal societies that stood in contrast to their modern age by being preindustrial and superstitious....

  8. 3 Building Tradition: On Control and Authority in Vernacular Architecture
    (pp. 93-137)

    Eminently visible, persistent, and complex, buildings are objects that enclose people rather than objects they grasp with their hands, but residents often claim to be handy not only by maintaining their structures but also by gaining a sense of ownership (see Goldstein 1998; Jones 1980b). People use bodily rhetoric to refer to their enclosures; their frontal exteriors are said to have public “faces” that project dwellers’ personalities to passersby (they also have “rears,” where privacy, and waste, can be found). Viewing large edifices, especially, raises issues of control for people about to cross thresholds—the human ability to create anew...

  9. 4 Making Tradition: On Craft in American Consciousness
    (pp. 138-195)

    Americans’ complicated attitude toward tradition is wrapped up in the connotations of craft in the transition from a preindustrial to a postindustrial society. TheOxford English Dictionaryasserts that the transference ofcraftfrom the Teutonic root for “strength” or “force” to “skill, art, skilled occupation” appears to be exclusively English. My argument is that it has gone through another move in American usage to one of “traditional, rural, old” in the service of modernity. It has done so because of an emergent progressive worldview among Americans that associates craft with America’s founding in the wilderness. Its naturalistic and communitarian...

  10. 5 Adapting Tradition: On Folklore in Human Development
    (pp. 196-247)

    What are we to make of the startling variety and intensity of folklore among American children today? Was not this material supposed to be dead and gone, replaced by a swirling array of electronic devices to keep children isolated and glued to screens, partaking of entertainment dished out by corporate America? Rhymes, taunts, jokes, and games familiar to previous generations can still be heard when children gather, and these forms are imaginatively adapted to new circumstances. If parents are not aware of what their children are saying or playing, it seems as if there is a folklorist or a reporter...

  11. 6 Fading Tradition: On a Dying Language and Lore
    (pp. 248-281)

    Why would a group transplanted to a new place and concerned about preserving its traditions not pass down its lore to the next generation? That question troubled me because I had to account for a situation that broke with the prevalent presumption among professional observers of traditions, or ethnographers, that elders in a community seek to engage youth in a natural cycle. A preservationist appeal that typically resonates from ethnographic writing is that the senior bearers of traditional wisdom seek young apprentices to carry the torch of tradition into the future. After all, is not the power of tradition its...

  12. 7 Personalizing Tradition: On Storytelling by an African American Father and Son
    (pp. 282-318)

    Eugene Powell answered my knock on his rickety door with little emotion. He had not known I was coming just then, but he confidently said to me, “I’ve been expecting you. Come on in and sit.” The row of black faces assembled in his parlor looked suspiciously at us. Eugene felt their stares and offered, “He’s here to learn about me!” With that, the men broke into quips and smirks. Once Eugene had vouched for me, they relaxed, and as happened so often that summer, Eugene stepped forward from the crowd. I heard one man remark, “Yeah, he should figure...

  13. 8 Symbolizing Tradition: On the Scatology of an Ethnic Identity
    (pp. 319-349)

    Mahlon Hellerich strode to the podium to talk about Pennsylvania German (or, in his folk usage, Dutch, from the dialectDeitsch) culture to a gathering of the Pennsylvania German Society in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The audience did not need lecturing about the history of the group, since it comprised many people who, like him, had grown up with “Dutch” traditions. So he decided to focus on how the Dutch identity had changed from the mid-twentieth century of his youth to this twenty-first-century moment. In his eighties at that point, Hellerich was a well-recognized speaker on Pennsylvania German topics. Calling himself a...

  14. 9 Sporting Tradition: On the Praxis of American Football
    (pp. 350-397)

    Ironically, people refer to play as a chance to “let go,” meaning the suspension of the usual, even as the guidelines they apply to their fun and games derive from everyday life. In modern culture, characterized by corporate routine and the passive reception of entertainment, many traditions are cognitively perceived as special occasions for participatory play in which “fun time” can be used to comment on what one does during serious or ordinary time (Abrahams 2005, 96–110; Bascom 1954, 336–38; Dundes 1969b). It might even be said to take one back to childhood because traditional play often appears...

  15. 10 Virtual Tradition: On the Internet as a Folk System
    (pp. 398-450)

    Many people believe that traditions are all about being natural. In this view, traditions are down home, out in the fields, or back in the woods, where socializing, ritualizing, and storytelling occur unencumbered by machines or corporations. They raise images of family gathered around the dinner table at holidays or the neighborhood gang playing together, and this view might be imaginatively set in opposition to the socially alienating quality of modernity dominated by technology. The rhetoric of tradition cited in folkloristic annals is not far off from these characterizations, although it may broaden to include a variety of settings—urban...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 451-458)
  17. References
    (pp. 459-508)
  18. Index
    (pp. 509-530)