Academic journal article Western Folklore

Back to the Hearth: The Politics of Reflexivity and Representation in Context

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Back to the Hearth: The Politics of Reflexivity and Representation in Context

Article excerpt

It is an honor and a real pleasure to be able to present the Archer Taylor memorial lecture this afternoon. The title of this talk, "Back to the Hearth," first of all is intended to remind us that at every meeting of the California Folklore Society we are in some ways going back to Archer Taylor's own hearth, since the very first meeting of this society took place at his home in the Berkeley hills in 1940. In commemorating his leadership both in the society and in the field of folklore, this lecture has also provided me the opportunity to go back to my own folkloristic hearth in reflecting on my career in the discipline of folklore over the last thirty years. For, in fact, it was on this very date thirty years ago that I mailed my application for graduate school to the folklore program at the University of Texas. And in a much more literal way, today I have the opportunity of putting those thirty years in the context of work I began just last summer with women who live on the islands of Roaring Water Bay off the southwest coast of County Cork, Ireland.

While I must admit that Archer Taylor has not been a daily companion in my classrooms or in the field over the last thirty years, I certainly found myself wishing I could consult him as I sat by the hearth of Lizzie Minihane on Heir Island. As I found with every other woman I spoke with later that summer, Lizzie at first insisted that she didn't remember any proverbs or old sayings at all. Even though I knew Taylor had collected his proverbs primarily from literary sources, oh how I wished he were there to nudge me in the right direction. And it was just at that moment that Lizzie, unable to recollect a single proverb, sighed and said, "You just forget them until you really need them."

That night as I sat writing about the day's events, I had to laugh to myself that there so far away from the Texas classrooms where I had first learned about "Proverbs and the Ethnography of Speaking," where Bauman and Paredes had published Toward New Perspectives in Folklore in 1972, the same year I entered graduate school, I was learning again the importance of context in any folklore performance-this time from a woman who had rarely been off this tiny island in Roaring Water Bay.

And so today I want to use this occasion to reflect on the important theoretical and methodological moments that have shaped and indeed continue to shape my own understandings as a folklorist. In doing so, I want to try to understand and situate my Irish homecoming within the framework of three major theoretical developments in ethnography (one for each decade of my life as a folklorist): the context and performance approaches of the 1970s, the contributions of the "Writing Culture" scholars, led by James Clifford and George Marcus in the 1980s, and the matrix of methodologically exciting innovations by folklorists and other ethnographers of the 1990s that revolve around the politics of representation. There were certainly other important illuminating developments in the field during these decades, and many, like feminist ethnography, have shaped my theoretical and methodological perspectives dramatically. Still, it is the relationships between and the trajectory of these three particular disciplinary shifts that have profoundly influenced my own positioning as a folklorist, ethnographer, and writer that I wish to focus on today as I begin this new and compelling project.

I consider it especially fortuitous that my own entry into the profession of folklore coincided so dramatically with the development of performance-based, contextual approaches to the field. Writing in the "20-years after Towards New Perspectives" issue of Western Folklore published in 1993, Amy Shuman and Charles Briggs observed that Toward New Perspectives was "a volume that set out the premises for what became known as performance theory, the paradigm that currently dominates thinking in folklore. The incisive essays published in Toward New Perspectives shaped folklore research by anthropologists, linguists, sociologists, and literary scholars as well as folklorists for a generation" (1993:110). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.