Theory/policy: introduction.

Author:Hafstein, Valdimar Tr.
Position:Cultural studies

As an interdisciplinary forum, Cultural Analysis interweaves and overlaps a variety of vantage points on expressive and everyday culture. This fifth volume stands at a crossroads where theory meets policy, and where academic and public interests converge. The contributors come to this intersection from the fields of folklore, anthropology, and cultural studies. All these fields have been interdisciplinary highways at one time or another, but they have also been torn by conflicts between "applied" or "public sector" practitioners and academic purists.

In the United States, the debate over the legitimacy of public folklore began in the middle of the 20th century. In seeking to establish the study of folklore as an autonomous academic discipline, Richard M. Dorson, director of the Folklore Institute and first American department of folklore at Indiana University, disparaged the "application" and "popularization" of the field in the public sphere (e.g., Dorson 1950, 1969; see also Bendix 1997, 188-194). Later, Dorson even went so far as to combat the creation of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (Bulger 2003). The establishment of folklore in higher education in the latter half of the century, however, produced far more experts in the field than could hope to find academic positions. It has thus contributed to the expansion and sophistication of public folklore practice in cultural institutions and apparatuses, from museums to folklife festivals, and from the offices of "city folklorists" to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1988; Baron and Spitzer 1992). Indeed, in spite of such tensions, the study of folklore has longstanding ties to the government of social life, going back at least to the 19th century, as an instrument for mapping populations and for representing provincial peripheries to metropolitan centers (Linke 1990; Noyes 1999).

The split between theory and public practice remains a leitmotif in the discipline, however, though the two are certainly no longer as bifurcated as they once were. In particular, questions of cultural politics and representation have created common ground between folklorists at universities, arts councils, museums, and various other public and private agencies and institutions. This theoretical reorientation has encouraged a reassessment of the division of labor in the field and has helped to heal the split between academic and applied traditions (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1988; cf. Baron 1999).

As Barbro Klein demonstrates in this volume, similar tensions marked the development of the sibling discipline of folklife studies/ethnology in Sweden, in that case between scholars oriented towards social planning in the welfare state and...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP