Academic journal article Western Folklore

Hybridizing Folk Culture: Toward a Theory of New Media and Vernacular Discourse

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Hybridizing Folk Culture: Toward a Theory of New Media and Vernacular Discourse

Article excerpt

Writing over a decade ago, new media scholar Lev Manovich observed that "all culture, past and present, is being filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface," adding, "Humancomputer interface comes to act as a new form through which till older forms of cultural production are being mediated" (2001:64). Indeed, as digital technology has progressed at exponential rates over the last several decades-becoming smaller, faster, and more sophisticated with greater functionality-its costs have consistently decreased,1 while user adoption has continued to steadily rise. The integration of these new media devices into everyday life has been equally profound, particularly in shaping how individuals communicate and make meaning in contemporary society (Baym 2010; Turkle 2011; see also Fine and Ellis 2010).2

New media technologies possess the ability to digitally replicate (or temporarily replace) the function and expressive range of verbal communication in virtual interactions; they also allow individuals to establish hybrid discursive practices by assigning meaning to interactive, technologically mediated collaborations (de Souza e Silva 2006; see also Blank 2009; Bronner 2009; Chayko 2008). As such, new media plays an integral role in the process of constructing social, linguistic, and expressive forms that constitute the discursive practices of face-to-face and virtual communication, especially in the discourse of a real and/or virtual community.3

Nevertheless, the same scholarly attention that folklorists have given to reporting the manifestations of creativity and the traditional knowledge of people in the "physical world" has not yet been fully applied to Internet contexts, despite the fact that many folklore genres or human subjects have translated or modified their outputs in order to engage the online world, whether exclusively or in juxtaposition with their original, face-to-face derivations.4 This article provides a theoretical framework for the study of new media and folk culture by examining how the widespread adoption of the Internet and other digital technologies has fundamentally changed how people communicate and conceptualize reality across corporeal5 and virtual contexts, resulting in the hybridization of vernacular discourse.

For evidence, I look to material culture studies-perhaps the most corporeally focused genre of folkloristic inquiry-to illustrate how the cognitive hybridization of reality has also yielded emotional synchrony, behavioral adaptation, and correlative (and/or wholly new) expressive dynamics in online settings without disrupting the authenticity or meaning of the experience for participants. In doing so, I discuss how "virtual corporeality" renders vernacular expression a process and hence facilitates the ongoing selection for successful traits that is the definitive process of hybridization, and underscore the relevancy of a behavioral approach to the study of new media and the hybridization of folk culture.

In the past, "hybridization" has held various meanings-folklorist D.K. Wilgus (1965) employed the term to describe the adoptive styles of hillbilly music through repetition and variation; it has also been interpreted in primarily ethnic terms, especially in conjunction with the study of Creolization (Kapchan and Strong 1999).6 Perhaps most famously, Russian-philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin defined hybridization as "a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation or by some other factor" (1987:358; see also Kapchan 1993). In the context of the Digital Age (and this essay), "hybridization" exemplifies the process by which "real world" discursive practices significantly influence, and are reciprocally influenced by, virtualized discursive practices. …

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