James R. Dow


8 There Is No Grand Theory in
Germany, and for Good Reason

THERE IS NO single, functioning “grand theory” of folklore in the German-speaking world. To a very large degree, present instructional and research practices represent a reaction to, and rejection of, one particular theory for folklore in this part of Europe. It took a world war, a monumental student revolt, and sweeping university reform for scholars in the discipline to rid themselves, rather dramatically, of the very concept of an overarching and inclusive theory. A formal “farewell” was taken in 1970 with the publication of the polemical Abschied vom Volkskben (Geiger, Jeggle, and Korff 1970) and a brief two-sentence formula, called simply the “Falkenstein Formula,” which says: “Volkskunde analyzes the transmission of cultural values (including their causes and the processes which accompany them) in their objective and subjective form. The goal is to contribute to solving sociocultural problems” (Brückner 1971, 303). In the process the term Volkskunde, as well as its use in the tide of university departments, has for the most part been abandoned, along with any semblance of a grand theory.

There was, of course, good reason for this leave-taking from any sort of overarching theory. When we look to the past, we find that there was in fact a grand theory before there was a study of folklore. Herder theorized that the Volk (by which he primarily meant the peasant folk) represented higher individuals who had kept alive the creative spark of their heritage. From that time in the late eighteenth century, until well past the middle of the twentieth century, scholars in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland theorized about the continuity of German traditions among the Volk from some prehistoric time in antiquity down to the present. The theory was refined,

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