There are many ways a discipline can take stock of itself--by summing up past achievements, surveying present orientations, or attempting to define new perspectives; by utilizing summary, critique, example, or speculation. There is something of all of these in the present collection; but in vindication of the editors' hopes in organizing it, its principal thrust is towards the future, and its tone is one of exploration, challenge, and anticipation. In bringing together these essays, no attempt was made by the editors to limit or direct the contributors other than the stipulation that theoretical or methodological considerations should be given prominence. This lack of constraint is perhaps most clearly indicated by the diversity in conceptual range the collection as a whole displays. Nevertheless, in the very selection of the authors from whom contributions were originally solicited, the editors were acting on a sense of compatibility of interest and approach that appears to have been borne out in the final work.
Without attempting to speak for the authors, it may be useful to indicate the principal concerns that appear to us to emerge from the work as a whole. Of these, the most comprehensive is a full-scale and highly self-conscious reorientation from the traditional focus upon folklore as "item"--the things of folklore--to a conceptualization of folklore as "event"--the doing of folklore. In particular, there is an emphasis upon performance as an organizing principle that comprehends within a single conceptual framework artistic act, expressive form, and esthetic response, and that does so in terms of locally defined, culture-specific categories and contexts. The latter requirement, which constitutes the particular focus of a number of the papers, is particularly important, given the predilection of folklorists in the past for the construction of universal classification systems or functional schemes without due regard for the ethnographic realities of particular cultures or awareness of the principle that the cognitive, behavioral, and functional structuring of folklore is not always and everywhere the same, but crossculturally variable and diverse. Finally, the papers speak to a concern for the achievement of greater formal precision in the description and analysis of folklore, not as an end in itself but with a strong commitment towards the integration of form, function, and performance.
The first paper in the collection, by Dan Ben-Amos, is in the curious position of having already been debated in the literature before it appeared in print, which . . .