What's in a discipline?

Author:Hafstein, Valdimar Tr.
 
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On Friday, September 12, 2014 SIEF, the Societe Internationale d'Ethnologie et de Folklore, celebrated its 50th birthday in a festive event held in Amsterdam with a Jubilee Symposium and a General Assembly. (1) The illustrious line-up of speakers included two of SIEF's ex-presidents, Regina Bendix (Gottingen) and Konrad Kostlin (Vienna), SIEF's historian and ex-vice president, Bjarne Rogan (Oslo), and two special invited guests, Jasna Capo (Zagreb) and Orvar Lofgren (Lund). (2) We asked them all to speak "out of the box" but gave them free rein otherwise. The result was a fine series of presentations, moving from a meditation on anniversaries to reflections on the history of the society and its disciplines, and from an analysis of disciplinary relations in the centers and margins of Europe to visions for the future of the field and, finally, to new research perspectives on everyday life. The present volume follows up SIEF's Jubilee Symposium and presents four of the papers from Amsterdam in full article form, as well as two original discussion pieces by Kristin Kuutma (Tartu) and Cristina Sanchez-Carretero (Santiago de Compostela).

Just as this volume is published, the society meets for its biennial 2015 congress in Zagreb, Croatia. Reading through the paper abstracts submitted for this congress, still in our demi-centennial jubilee mind-set, it struck us that much of what will be said in Zagreb--the vantage points, the dialogues, not to mention the vocabulary--would have been hard to imagine for our predecessors, the scholars who took part in the society's founding in the mid-1960s. Our successors might say something similar about us when SIEF meets for its 37th congress in 2065. If SIEF congresses from the last fifty years are any indication, if the future differs from the present as the present differs from the past, then, to be sure, much will be said that we may find it difficult to wrap our minds around today. And yet over the past half century, some key concerns have stayed with us, and it is hard to believe that they will fade away any time soon: the popular, the vernacular, the everyday, the local and the translocal, the national and the transnational, diffusion and migration, difference and sameness, inclusion and exclusion, religious and secular imaginaries, the narrative and the material, tradition and creativity, class and gender, the archive and the museum, and food and the home.

These topics have cut across SIEF congresses from the outset to the present, and persist across the panels at the Zagreb congress. They define the society and its field(s) of research and practice; these are the concerns that mark the common ground of ethnologists and folklorists in all their various denominations and renominations, concerns shared with colleagues from neighboring disciplines who take part in the work and congresses of SIEF. We bring to these common concerns those questions and concepts that motivate our inquiry any given year: from the historic-geographic, the functional, structural, and post-structural at previous congresses; and to the affective, the digital, the corporeal, or the post-human at current congresses. These traveling concepts bring us into larger conversations that cut across disciplines; they are crucial, if ephemeral. The common concerns, in contrast, have proved resilient; they remain at the heart of our field(s) through all of the various "turns" it has taken and will take. They unite us, in spite of our differences.

At the Jubilee Symposium in Amsterdam, Konrad Kostlin (himself president of SIEF between 1990 and 2001) addressed head-on the problematic of celebrating anniversaries. Turning an ethnological eye on the ethnologists in their celebration of themselves, Kostlin's analysis is spot-on. It opens the contemporary, "decimalist" preoccupation with anniversaries up to a scrutiny that is insightful, witty, and embarrassing. On behalf of SIEF, we plead guilty: Kostlin's shots hit the bull's-eye. SIEF's self-chosen moment of auto-historicizing and self-glorification is indeed about affirming the society's unity and continuity, it is about shameless self-promotion and an inflation of our collective sense of self. Its slightly pompous tone and serious setting--with a "Golden Jubilee" celebration parading professors and presidents (current, ex- and vice-) amid classical nude Greek statues in the Special Collections building of the University of Amsterdam--are very much in tune with sensibilities and structures that Kostlin's analysis brings to light. They are...

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