The scholarship of traditional arts revivals is often ironic. Revivalists' activity has been understood as a rational, politically nostalgic, and symbolic re-enactment of a fictional past. In this, scholars have underestimated the significance of disavowal; that is, informants' neutral or negative responses to analytical methods and conclusions. Interviews with English storytelling revivalists reveal a coherent and significant consensus of disavowal, showing their primary concern to be not with nostalgic self-rationalisation, but with basic practical issues of artistic and sociable interaction. Storytelling revival involves nostalgic displays that are actually fragmentary, superficial, and subordinate to practical concerns. This suggests that revivalists are seeking not to symbolise an imagined past for political purposes, but to familiarise recently appropriated performance genres for artistic purposes. This conclusion is hypothetically applicable to the uses of nostalgic rationalisation within other revival movements.
The study of folklore can be characterised by two complementary yet competing perspectives-the delineation of ideology and the discernment of art (Oring 1996, 325).
The Interpretation of Revival
A conventional scholarly view of the traditional arts revival  is encapsulated in the title of Georgina Boyes' historical study of English folk music revival, The Imagined Village: Culture and Ideology in the English Folk Revival (1993). In this title, bucolic fantasy takes centre stage. The actual incidence of dance, song, music and other specific forms and genres of folk culture is passed over in silence. This is no accident. The title summarises an ironic critique of revival, which the book itself, like other scholarship on revivals, expounds at length. According to this critique, folk revival purports to be an artistic enterprise based on enthusiasm for certain genres; but these artistic considerations are largely a pretext for a coded political statement on a very large scale. Boyes describes the revival itself, the movement, as a large but rather shallow re-creation of a romantically conservative idealised past, contrasted with the mainstream of modernity, and enacted quite irrespective of any practical function the movement might serve in appropriating specific forms of vernacular art. This over-arching symbolic quality, by implication, distinguishes revival from mature tradition, because mature tradition never really symbolises or expresses anything in and of itself; it is simply a natural part of the life of the tradition-bearing community (Boyes 1993, 2, 47, 54 and 123).
This view exemplifies the general scholarly preoccupation with context--historical, political, cultural and social--as the royal road to the successful interpretation of folklore. Here, however, the logic is applied not, as usually, to specific genres and items of folklore, but on a much larger scale, to the whole folk group or vernacular milieu (Pickering and Green 1987) whose very existence is itself seen as a deliberate statement of meaning. Folklorists have sometimes neglected interpretation in favour of taxonomy, structural analysis, historical study, and the like (Holbek 1985), but when folklorists have attempted interpretation, they have mostly been preoccupied with context. They share this preoccupation with other disciplines and interdisciplinary subject areas in the humanities. Whether folkloric or not, the scholarship of contextualisation is always a scholarship of more or less benevolent irony. It can be, as in this example, a scholarship of outright debunking. Early diachronic theories of historical development on a very large scale, such as comparative mythology and cultural evolution, were themselves effectively theories of context-specific meaning that blinded scholars to the distinctness and competence of the folk themselves as makers and interpreters of their own culture (for example, Frazer 1927). Later scholars effectively admitted that tradition-bearers could, and did, actually mean things by their own artistic and cultural expressions. For English-language folklorists, the relevant theoretical ground was broken in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly in the United States, by William R. Bascom and others (Bascom 1965; Jansen 1965; Bauman 1971; Paredes and Bauman 1972). For folklorists, the question of interpretation thereafter became largely the question that the folk themselves meant by their lore. This encouraged a more synchronic approach. In the United Kingdom, synchronic folklore scholarship emerged gradually (Buchan 1972; Green and Widdowson 1978; Bennett and Smith 1985; 1987; 1988a-c).
These developments, however, did not wholly curtail the demand for scholarship of a certain ironic slant, especially regarding the questions of interpretation and meaning. Taken at face value, the meanings of the products of folk culture often appear implausible and irrational by conventionally rational standards. For example, folklorists could not usually interpret contemporary legends simply as factual reports. On the other hand, general anxiety about the fast-food industry sounds much more respectably rational than literal belief in the Kentucky Fried Rat. Almost as if to deny, or at least compensate for, the bracingly bizarre content of folk culture, scholars have often interpreted it in functional and context-specific ways. They saw it as serving such functions as educating the young, achieving group solidarity, negotiating individual competition within folk-groups, voicing social protest, allowing imaginative escapism, palliating the tedium of work, or licensing the breach of verbal or behavioural taboos (Bascom 1965). These diverse functions are similar in that they present folklore as a fundamentally rational but indirectly expressed response by the folk to real aspects of the context of performance. The classic exposition of a similar, benevolently ironic view, with regard to fictional wonder-tales, is that of Bengt Holbek (1987). Holbek mistrusted the idea that the marvellous elements of wonder-tales dragons, glass mountains and the like--might be intrinsically meaningful or appealing. He concluded that they were symbolic but rational references to mundane realities (Holbek 1987, esp. 169 and 182). The tales, he says, "deal with themes which are painful, which cannot be openly approached" in a situation in which: "People, and perhaps particularly those of the lowest orders, would have to express themselves with care, to avoid giving offense" (Holbek 1987, 407).
Boyes's image of The Imagined Village applies this logic on a larger scale: not to individual motifs, items, or even genres, but to an entire subcultural milieu, understood as a single thing meaning something in and of itself. Nor is Boyes alone in suggesting that revivals indirectly express meanings that are primarily concerned with the real life surrounding the moment of performance or imaginative escape. Revivals are generally so interpreted, and not only by folklorists. Kenneth McLeish states that "Most artistic revivals have an intellectual rationale and are not simply stylistic." Folk song revival pioneers such as Cecil Sharp, "Ewan MacColl" (James Miller) and A.L. Lloyd were politically informed popular scholars as well as performers, and the work of pioneering storytelling revivalists is, and was, politically committed (Hill 1973). Manifestos for revival are often political or moral as much as purely artistic, and are sometimes felt to compromise their artistic authenticity (Pilkington 1989, 365-6). They are drawn from (at times exploded or outdated) scholarship, in a process whereby academic ideas about vernacular culture establish a feral life outside the academy and become themselves a feature of vernacular culture (Bausinger 1990, 72). These features of revival seem to engender a certain preoccupied mistrust among some scholars, in contrast with the more supportive tone sometimes adopted when discussing established mature traditions. For example, under "revival" in their Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud attribute Victorian and Edwardian revivals to "reformers" with an agenda (Simpson and Roud 2000, 294). Similarly, their entry on "Merrie England" describes how the evocation of the imagined past was used as an instrument of social and political control from the top down by the "combined power of the squire, magistrate, parson, schoolteacher, doctor, solicitor, and ... respectable ... people of the area." In The Study of Folk Music in the Modern World, Philip Bohlman alleges that: "The revivalist ... is fundamentally concerned with recreating [the] value-laden social context" of folk music (Bohlman 1988, 130-1; italics added). Similarly, when discussing "The Concertina as Emblem of the Folk Music Revival in the British Isles," Stuart Eydman asserts that: "The postwar folk and traditional music revival in the British Isles was a complex phenomenon which involved more than just the simple rediscovery and promotion of music and song [...] there is always an ideological basis for music revival. Recognition and promotion of the perceived artistic and cultural value of the music is only part of the process" (Eydmann 1995, 41 and 49; italics added). Addressing popular music, David Harker and Richard Middleton state as a basic premise that: "Music was never simply music; songs were never simply songs" (1993 n.p.). Neil Rosenberg describes revival folk music as "an intellectual music with an anti-intellectual ethos" (1993, 8), in an eloquent and concise paradox that maintains the view that …