Regina F. Bendix, Göttingen

Disciplinary Capital in a Departmentalized World

The last decades have brought to full bloom the transformation of universities. Leaders and administrators in higher education tackle the fate of the “knowledge making industry” with economic acumen and support the entrepreneurial academic. Within this context, practitioners in humanities fields in general experience themselves framed as the problem children in the enterprise, encouraged to move into new departmental structures and pestered to undertake more rigorous acquisition of research funds. Folkloristics has always been a maverick field; emerging with and perched between the politics of nationhood and the structuring of university disciplines in the 19th century, folklore interests continued to range broadly and holistically, appealing to scholars and “laypeople” alike. This very breadth in method and scope – for what could be broader a field than everyday life, past and present? – constitutes an ideal intellectual capital for understanding and confronting the ills afflicting academia. Finding a new role not just for folkloristics in a transforming academy requires that we understand the workplace that universities have become, and what lens would be better equipped to generate such an understanding than one focused on the lore and practice of this occupation and its institutions? Drawing from an exploratory sample of present day academic occupational folklore, the paper will 1) suggest in what ways folkloristics’ disciplinary capital constitutes a crucial glue in the concert of cultural fields of research and 2) call for a mobilization of the art of resistance encoded in the folklore of our own occupational world.

Anne Eriksen, Olso 

Folkloristics and the Heritage Field

Why folkloristics? this conference asks. I can think of a range of possible answers, all based on my conviction that folklore studies represent a take on central issues of cultural theory that is relevant and useful far beyond the actual study of folklore. I will nonetheless focus my attention on the contribution of folklorists and folkloristics to the field of heritage studies. The reason is partly that heritage studies and cultural memory are lively and expanding fields of cultural research at the moment, attracting folklorists as well as scholars from numerous other fields. But just as important is it, in my view, that heritage studies touch upon the very core of folkloristic competence: Investigations of how the past is working in the present, how the past shapes the present, and how it is an active source of authority, values and obligations.

In my address I will seek to explore the relationship between folklore and heritage. My main point will be to examine the contributions and potentialities of folkloristics to the field of heritage studies, not so much by going into specific cases or discussion of empirical research that has been carried out, as by means of an investigation of terms and perspectives. At the center of this discussion will stand the fundamental and defining terms of our discipline: The notions of folklore and tradition, and their relationship to heritage.

Susanne Österlund-Pötzsch, Helsinki.

Why Folkloristics in the Case of Stairs? Disciplinary Perambulations.

Few disciplines are as critical about their own existence as Folkloristics – for better or worse. While the rumours of the death of the discipline have proved to be – as the saying goes – greatly exaggerated, academic marginalization is an acutely felt threat by many folklorists today. However, it has also been observed that, in academia as well as amongst the general public, there currently exists a growing interest in fields, methods and materials that have since long been at the heart of Folkloristics.

Meanwhile, folklorists keep pondering what the recipe for recognition and survival might be: Returning to the roots and sticking to the core? Trying new paths and evolving in new directions? Or a skilful balancing act? By looking at an everyday architectural feature such as staircases, I hope to provide yet another example that illustrates Folkloristics certainly has the width, depth, dynamics and inherent curiosity to do both roots and routes. What can folkloristic approaches tell us in the case of stairs?

Carl Lindahl, Houston

Surrender the Self, See the Community, Secure the Future

A folklore field recording is only rarely better than the relationship between performer and  fieldworker. Institutional assumptions have continually troubled the ties between the two.  With strikingly few exceptions since the eighteenth century, the goal of fieldwork has been expressed, implicitly or directly, as the self-discovery of the ethnographer rather than as an understanding of the people whose lives we are charged to represent. Narratives shared by survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the Great East Japan Earthquake reveal ways in which ethnographers’ self-absorption undercuts our attempts to understand others. Fieldwork experiences from Appalachia and Cajun Louisiana suggest that the most successful folklore fieldwork lies in recognizing, entering, and testing the involuntary social frames that create and demarcate folk communities.

Diane Goldstein, Indiana University

Venerating the Vernacular: The Rise of Local Knowledge and Narrative

“To too great an extent,” Dell Hymes wrote in 1975, “folklore is perceived as the study of things neglected by others, the leavings of other sciences”. Over the forty years since Hymes wrote these words our intellectual context has pretty radically changed in light of a growing populism in the intellectual, bureaucratic and popular world around us that (for better or worse) now pays greater attention to the voices and knowledges of vernacular culture. My talk will explore changes in scholarly and popular attitudes toward the vernacular over the last forty years, particularly through examination of the rise of intellectual, bureaucratic, and popular, interest in narrative and local knowledge. I will examine the reasons for what I see as a new cultural acceptance or even veneration of certain aspects of the vernacular, the positive and negative impacts of this new attitude on communities, and the real, imagined, and potential role our discipline, does, can, should, or should not play, in this changing context for folklore and folkloristics.

Barbro Klein


Around the world, academic landscapes are shifting. Seemingly well-established boundaries between disciplines appear increasingly porous and unstable. This is potentially a golden moment for folklorists, not to retrench or give in to those who think their field is narrow or arcane, but to widen their horizons and engage even more than they already do with broad perspectives.

With the study of folklore in Northern Europe as a point of departure, I will reflect on the potential of such broad engagements in primarily two respects. First, I will say a few words about the long and rich history of folkloristics. Crucial for how we understand our core agendas, this history has to be rethought over and over. At this point in time it is particularly important to examine critically our various national and global folkloristic histories in a light that provincializes Europe and invites African, Asian and Latin American folklorists to write their histories. These are vital tasks, not least in view of today’s tragic wars, intense world migrations, and floods of media stories. Second, I will turn to some of the conversations that we pursue with other disciplines, albeit in different ways in different countries and contexts. Folkloristics has profound links, not only to ethnology, but to practically every field in the human and social sciences, from the study of literature and history to anthropology and cognitive science. What do these links and conversations mean today for us and for others? We need to discuss the ways in which our histories and our ongoing conversations with many disciplines can guide us to articulate with confidence, for ourselves and others, why and for what folkloristics is needed in a world of shifting knowledge production.