Academic journal article Western Folklore

Resisting Folklore: Folk Belief and Motherhood in Russian-Language Forums for Women

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Resisting Folklore: Folk Belief and Motherhood in Russian-Language Forums for Women

Article excerpt

Far from disappearing from our lives under pressures of modernity, folklore continues to be transmitted through channels most in use by the folk. These channels increasingly include more than face-to-face, oral communication. While folklorists may have traditionally considered orality a crucial criterion in defining a folklore item, Alan Dundes had argued, as early as 1975, for expanding our definitions to include items transmitted through non-oral means, such as "hand copying, typewriting, photocopying, and xerography" (Dundes and Pagter 1975:xix). In Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire (1975) and subsequent volumes (1987, 1991, 1996), as well as in Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore (1999), Dundes argued for multiple existence and variation as definitional criteria for folklore transmitted orally as well as through a variety of other channels such as writing, Xeroxing, and cartoons.1

With the rise of computer-mediated communication (CMC) and its prominence in our daily interactions, folklore is increasingly transmitted "via email and the Internet," as Dundes pointed out in his AFS presidential address (2005); his arguments for expanding our definitional criteria were crucial for opening the field to research on folklore and new media. Despite the theoretical implications of this work and the importance of digital data, research on Internet folklore is still at its inception (c.f. Blank 2009; also Blank 2012; Kargin and Kostina 2007; 2009 on Russian online folklore).

In his chapter on digital performance, Buccitelli (2012) convincingly argues that new media are not simply channels for transmission of offline folklore; instead, they emerge as places of performance (Buccitelli 2012:73). Computer-mediated places of performance include synchronous contexts (such as chatrooms) and asynchronous contexts such as blogs, mailing lists, forums, and more. Folklore is especially important in digital communities of practice, i.e. communities in which people aggregate around a mutual engagement in an endeavor (on CofPs, see Lavé and Wenger 1991; Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1992; Holmes and Meyerhoff 1999). In such communities, folklore often plays a vital role in constructing and maintaining group cohesion through such means as narratives, jokes (Wenger 1998) and even ritual insults (Perelmutter 2013). But while scholars of new media have been paying increasing attention to various means of constructing and maintaining group cohesion that could be fruitfully analyzed through the lens of folklore-e.g. storytelling, jokes, insults, and more-folklorists have been criticized for participating only modestly in scholarly discourse about CMC (Blank 2009; 2012). Trevor J. Blank, in Folklore and the Internet (2009:2), encourages folklorists to look to the Internet, "not only to expand our scholastic horizons but also to carry our discipline into the digital age" (Blank 2009:2).

In this article, I examine how specific, expected performances of pregnancy folklore become a means of maintaining group cohesion within a virtual community of practice for post-Soviet mothers, Eva.ru (http://eva.ru/main/forum). The items of folklore are in hybrid transmission (c.f. Blank 2012:12) through both face-to-face and virtual channels. The expectant mothers may learn these items from family members, friends, and co-workers; they may also learn them online, from each other. I argue that repeated discussions of folk belief are performances that serve the community members in constructing post-Soviet gendered identities specific to this particular community.

The virtual community participants regularly invoke items of folk belief connected to motherhood, and then resist and ultimately reject many of them in the process of group discussion. I assert that through these discursive practices involving folklore, Russianspeaking participants in this digital forum for mothers construct identities that are in complex dialogue with the identities, attitudes and practices of previous generations-mothers and mothers-inlaw, grandmothers, and older co-workers who gave birth during the Soviet period. …

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