Doing Folkloristics in the Digital Age
The next Folkore Fellows’ Summer School will take place at Turku University’s research station on the island of Seili, 11–18 June 2015. The theme of the international summer school, the ninth to be organised in Finland, is investigation of the Internet and digital culture from a folkloristics perspective. The keynote speakers include Anneli Baran, Trevor J. Blank, Lauri Harvilahti, Robert Glenn Howard, Lynne S. McNeill, and Jaakko Suominen.
Over the last couple of decades the Internet has become a central part of our everyday activity and social reality. We carry out work, we seek out information and we spend our free time either alone or communally by turning to the Internet. The Internet has powerfully moulded the ways a sense of belonging to a community and identity formation take place in modern society. It has given rise to partially or wholly virtual subcultures which have formed around various focuses of interest, whose members may be located absolutely anywhere. Family historians, fans, neo-pagans or health-seekers dwelling in different parts of the world can meet activists campaigning for or against various matters on the net, both social agents and chance participants. The everyday communication of these groups and the folklore they produce are influenced by local cultural traditions and models of communication, but are moulded too by the conditions of the digital contexts and technical approaches. They move naturally between digital and real worlds. Through social media, users of the Internet have changed from information seekers and users to producers of information and participants in it, and the boundary between amateur and professional activity has grown indistinct. The interaction between production and the public is a central concern of folkloristics, and the Internet has made this more discernible than hitherto. Digital folkloristics makes widespread use of materials gained from the media or otherwise generally known, and also borrows materials from commercially produced culture. Typical too is the characteristic merging of the products of commerce, popular culture and the media with folklore.
What form are the objects of folkloristic research and the questions it poses adopting in a digital age? How have cultural and social changes affected folkloristic methodology, and especially the questions that folklore seeks to pose? What are the objects of folkloristic research like in the context of the Internet, where social and professional boundaries are weak? What identities are built up on the Internet? What facilities does folkloristics have recourse to, when everyday communication has shifted from the oral to the digital? How does folklore arising digitally fit in with our earlier conceptions of cultural tradition and its protection? What means are archives and other storage centres for memorabilia to use to carry out their recording and cataloguing work on the Internet?
The programme of the summer school consists of five themes: Online communities and creativity; Authorship and popular culture; New heritage and curation; The Internet as a field for folkloristics; and Digital archives, interoperability and common practices. Each theme will occupy one day, with two plenum lectures and participants’ introductions and discussions.
1. Online communities and creativity
People do much the same things on the Internet as elsewhere. Yet the Internet provides new sorts of surroundings to carry them out, giving rise to new sorts of communities and forms of communality. More and more often, a community acts both on the Internet and outside it. Individual creativity flourishes on the Internet in many ways, for example as memes, You Tube videos and blogs. On the Internet both everyday communication and folklore performances are carried out in digital form, with the main features being visuality, remix, manipulation of images and the bringing together of media products in different ways and different forms.
2. Authorship and popular culture
Participatory culture involves the blurring of boundaries between the professional and the amateur and an emphasis on peer groups. Individuals and communities produce information voluntarily and spontaneously for publication on the Internet. Some self-taught groups challenge scientific research, some produce entertaining content and some construct archives for public use. The spread of authority from trained professionals to self-taught specialists is a multilayered phenomenon. Being an amateur has taken on special significance on the Internet. It is looked upon as indicating genuineness, and the fact that someone does not represent an organisation is viewed as a criterion of being a specialist (vernacular authority).
3. New heritage and curation
The development of information technology calls for an investigation of the ways in which cultural heritage can be presented. The change also requires a consideration of just what cultural heritage really means these days. New heritage, arising digitally, spontaneously and voluntarily outside official organizations is in a state of constant flux. At any time, innumerable webpages may be found in which people can reminisce or share their experiences of tragic events they have undergone together or recall them retrospectively. On the other hand there has been a gathering for example of modern narratives and memes into sizeable archives on individual sites. Although such archives have arisen without professional stewardship, the webmasters of the sites arrange, catalogue and add contextual information to them, like professionals. They have the special characteristic that anyone at all may take part in their maintenance and direction. Such collections do not merely fulfil the role of recording, but are themselves part of the overall vernacular use of these forms of cultural expression.
4. The Internet as a field for folkloristics: methodology and research ethics
The Internet is by nature ubiquitous and dynamic, and means different things to different people, depending on what services and applications they use. Internet ethnography is ethnography on, of or through the Internet. But since it is only some communities that work or some phenomena that appear solely on the Internet, the fieldworker’s field of study is usually both on and off the Internet. Internet research entails special problems of research ethics, since, despite the ease of access, not all the openly available Internet can be used freely in research. In addition to general research-ethical guidance, the researcher must observe a vacillating relationship between public and private, and take note of the new meanings of time and place.
5. Digital archives, interoperability and common practices
Archives and museums began digitizing their materials before the spread of the Internet in the 1980s. At present the acquisition and gathering of research materials takes place more often online. The digital age has also brought with it information systems, research platforms and databases that enhance the use of the materials. The interoperability of the digital world requires common standards and technically accessible applications, the development of which is the responsibility of archives and other such organisations. A working international infrastructure of research services is the key to the construction of a digital world suited to the task.
How to apply
The summer school is targeted primarily to doctoral students, but postdocs and other researchers are also welcome to attend. The participant quota for the summer school is 20; there will be 10 tutors in all. The language of the summer school is English. The call for applications has been extended until October 6, 2014. All applications are to be sent online. Participants will be selected on the basis of their application, and applicants will be informed of their acceptance by 30 November 2014.
The participation fee is 500 euros, which covers tuition, accommodation and full board for the period of the school, as well as journeys between Turku city and the Seili research station. Unfortunately Folklore Fellows cannot subsidize fees, and therefore encourages applicants to seek out other sources of funding and will provide letters of recommendation for those accepted to the summer school.
Professor Pekka Hakamies Secretary general Anne Heimo
University of Turku University of Turku
The Folklore Fellows Summer School is arranged is arranged in collaboration with the departments of folkloristics at the University of Turku, University of Helsinki, University of East-Finland and Åbo Akademi, and the Finnish Literature Society.
FFSS 2015 organizing group
Pekka Hakamies, professor of folkloristics, University of Turku; chair
Lauri Harvilahti, director of Folklore Archives, Finnish Literature Society
Anne Heimo, post-doctoral research fellow, Folkloristics, University of Turku; secretary general
Kaarina Koski, university teacher, Folkloristics, University of Turku
Seppo Knuuttila, professor emeritus of Folklore Studies, University of Eastern Finland
Pauliina Latvala, coordinator, Finnish Local Heritage Federation
Lena Marander-Eklund, research director, Folkloristics, University of Abo Akademi
Lotte Tarkka, professor of Folklore Studies, University of Helsinki
Pertti Anttonen, professor of Folklore Studies, University of Eastern Finland
Maria Vasenkari, editorial secretary, University of Turku; secretary