Folkloristics: An Introduction / the Study of American Folklore: An Introduction / the Dynamics of Folklore / Amerikanische Folkloristik

By Tokofsky, Peter | Western Folklore, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Folkloristics: An Introduction / the Study of American Folklore: An Introduction / the Dynamics of Folklore / Amerikanische Folkloristik


Tokofsky, Peter, Western Folklore


Folkloristics: An Introduction. By Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pp. ix + 336. $39.95 cloth, $19.95 paper)

The Study of American Folklore: An Introducti By Jan Harold Brunvand. (New York: Norton, 1997. 4th Edition. Originally published 1968. Pp. xxiv + 640. $31.95 cloth)

The Dynamics of Folklore. By Barre Toelken. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996. Revised and expanded edition. Originally published 1979. Pp. xiv + 439. $21.95 paper)

Amerikanische Folkloristik. Eine Einfuhrung. By Regina Bendix. (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1995. Pp. 267. DM 44 paper)

The fortunes of our discipline in the American academy and in the world of publishing seem to be moving in opposite directions. Witness the appearance of one new and two revised introductory folklore textbooks joining other still standard, and still in print, texts compiled by Alan Dundes (1965), Richard Dorson (1972), and Elliott Oring (1986a), just as most graduate degree granting folklore programs come under increasing threat from university administrations. Perhaps these two phenomena are not unrelated. With de-institutionalization, the undergraduate folklore curriculum will increasingly become a part-time occupation of faculty dispersed over a variety of departments. The comprehensive textbook serves this constituency well. Rather than keeping abreast of all the current trends in folklore journals and of the latest monographic studies, the folklore instructor who must first answer to other disciplinary interests can rely on one of these outstanding overviews. Ironically, Richard Dorson answered the question "Is Folklore a Discipline?" (Dorson 1973:199) in part by noting that "surveys and textbooks indicate the coming of age of a subject" and "the subject [of folklore] has sufficiently established itself so that several textbooks... have found ready markets in the United States." Whether they mark the establishment or re-ordering of a discipline, the impact of such textbooks on defining our field should not be underestimated. Thus these new publications merit scrutiny, just as the appearance of earlier readers generated professional discussion (cf. Goldstein, et al, 1966; Ketner 1980). We can only hope, however, that the texts themselves do not too quickly become artifacts for a future archaeology of disciplines.

In Folkloristics, Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones, long-time denizens of the Folklore and Mythology Program at UCLA, offer the most ambitious attempt to date at synthesizing the discipline. As such, the volume belies the goal, professed by its title,1 of serving as an introductory text; it is also an attempt to demarcate a field of study, with its own perspectives on expressive culture, as distinct from other forms of inquiry. Notably, this effort coincides historically with the attrition of the UCLA folklore faculty and discussions about re-defining and re-naming the Program founded by Wayland Hand and D. K- Wilgus.' Georges and Jones begin with a brief overview and definition of the materials studied by folklorists, the methods employed in this study, and the significance and situation of folklore in our world. To the authors,

The word folklore denotes expressive forms, processes, and behaviors (1) that we customarily learn, teach, and utilize or display during face-to-face interactions, and (2) that we judge to be traditional (a) because they are based on known precedents or models, and (b) because they serve as evidence of continuities and consistencies through time and space in human knowledge, thought, belief and feeling (1, italics in original).

Folklore thus defined is pervasive-it crops up in everyday speech, in film, fiction, advertising, and comics-and varied. This means of defining folklore pervades the text, even where the approaches discussed might not rely on the same definition. Study of these materials, Georges and Jones continue, relies on fieldwork, "the act of inquiring into the nature of phenomena by studying them at first hand in the environments in which they naturally exist or occur" (15).

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