Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices

Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices

Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices

Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices


The study of oral traditions and verbal arts leads into an area of human culture to which anthropologists are increasingly turning their attention. Oral Traditions and the Verbal Artsprovides up-to-date guidance on how to approach the study of oral form and their performances, treating both the practicalities of fieldwork and the methods by which oral texts and performances can be observed, collected or analysed. It also relates to those current controversies about the nature of performance and of 'text'.
Designed as a practical and systematic introduction to the processes and problems of researching in this area, this is an invaluable guide for students, and lecturers of anthropology and cultural studies and also for general readers who are interested in enjoying oral literature for its own sake.


This is the fourth volume in the 'Research Methods' series initiated by the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA), and the second to have been published by Routledge. Its immediate predecessor, Observing the Economy by C.A. Gregory and J.C. Altman, covered classic social anthropological territory, but the present book deals with a topic in which British anthropologists, at any rate, have only become interested rather more recently, although it is just as fascinating and important.

For this is a book about the study of human communication, or, to be more precise, of that aspect of it which involves the performance of songs, myths, stories, folktales, and similar forms of verbal artistry. Folklorists have always had to face the theoretical and methodological issues posed by collecting, transcribing, and analysing such material, of course, but there can surely be no social or cultural anthropologist who has not also grappled with similar problems, and few indeed who would not say with hindsight how much they would have benefited from this clear, thought-provoking statement of how best to go about it.

Such subject-matter raises distinctive moral dilemmas too. Who-if anyone-can be said to 'own' the data in question, and what artistic, legal, or financial responsibilities do fieldworkers bear towards those whose verbal performances they 'collect'? Dr Finnegan does not shirk such questions, though she shows that they allow of no easy answers.

Like its predecessors, the present volume serves two related purposes. First and foremost, as part of a series on research methods, it is of course designed to help anthropological fieldworkers be more explicitly aware of the constraints and implications of the various possible methods which can be used to study oral literature.

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