The first Folklore Fellows’ Summer School was held according to plan at the Turku Christian Institute under the auspices of Turku University during July 29 – August 14, 1991. After some rather cool weeks the weather had just turned unusually warm and sunny. Finland showed its nicest side, boots and raincoats could be forgotten. The modern, friendly, suburban atmosphere of the TCI greeted the arriving guests. Altogether 30 participants plus one observer came from 24 countries, 9 participants from North and West Europe, 9 from East Europe, 7 from Asia, 3 from Africa, 2 from North America and 1 from South America. The faculty of 14 teachers represented seven countries, namely, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Norway, Sweden and the U.S.A.
Perhaps the most important feature of the course was evident upon arrival. This was the globality of folklore research. Never before had so many nations from all over the world met each other on such a relatively small course. This globality pays tribute to the Unesco Recommendation for the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore approved in Paris, on November 15, 1989. This document stresses the inherent value and importance of folklore in the cultures of the world. All Member States of Unesco are requested to review the state of folklore work in their own country, and if its infrastructure shows weaknesses, to remedy them and enhance the possibilities for the survival and favourable development of all traditional heritage and cultural expressions, especially those serving as a symbol of cultural identity, be it national, social, ethnic or regional. By taking care of their own folklore work Member States contribute to the creation of an international awareness of the need to respect and safeguard folklore. Countries with much experience and a strong infrastructure should cooperate with and help those who are still in the early stages of development. In this cooperation training becomes the keyword, as the Unesco Recommendation states in a number of paragraphs. Advanced scholars and institutions take part in what becomes a forum for gathering available experience for the formulation of basic principles for modern folklore work in the global sense, i.e. without regional, national or other limitations.
From the scholarly point of view this cooperation is hardly attractive for scholars largely satisfied with looking upon their own achievements in the relatively narrow confines of their own cultural environment. Many, if not most folklorists are bound to accept their own working situation as a model for action, and a certain amount of patriotism and parochiality runs in the veins of most of us.
There is, however, also another tradition of action in the history of folkloristics. It was epitomised by the founding fathers of folkloreresearch in the 19th century. Starting with very patriotic motives and local enterprises, many of them converted their interest into a comparative method of research. While admiring the forms of folklore to be found in the communities near them, they addressed large questions of cultural history and evolution, dissemination and contact. They were led to create the first international forum of folklorists, which was based on mutual interest in getting adequate comparative materials for purposes of research and discussion. The idea of systematic cataloguing and indexing was born and new efforts to document living folklore genres were launched.
One of the products of this first international forum was the Folklore Fellows, first an alliance of a score of local folkloristic societies mainly in European countries, second an editorial board of a monograph series by the same name aiming at goals stated by the first Fellows in the Nordic countries and Central Europe, and now in its third phase an international network of folklorists with the aim to promote, among other things, globally oriented training in folkloristic documentation, archiving and research. The network is thus picking up the international tradition of folkloristics in a practical way similar to the first cooperation. The main difference is that not variants of folktales are brought together for comparison, but rather variants of folklorists, people who in their own environment work with traditional culture and are responsible for the future of this rare species of scholarly endeavour. It is believed that by bringing together the actual problems and experiences of active folklorists from different parts of the world, valuable information and lasting contacts will result. A critical assessment is needed of the methods and goals of a discipline which for so long thrived on various combinations of Romanticism and Nationalism. The professional folklorist should be aware of the premises and consequences of his work. Another area where a satisfactory level of proficiency should be reached is the technical one: modern folklore documentation cannot be based on pencil and paper only but requires skills in modern video, audio and computer techniques.
Global folkloristics is not possible without a quest for equality. This means, in essence, that all parties, be they Americans, Scandinavians, Germans, Russians, Asian or African scholars, must be considered as equal in the sense that each of them possesses some strong points as well as some weaknesses in their folklore work. Some nations may excel in theoretical work, others in vast archive collections, whereas yet others stress the collecting of living folklore. In each category valuable results may have been achieved, yet theoreticians may have lost their touch with cultures where folklore abounds as a central element of people’s identity, archive scholars may not have much understanding of the rapidly changing modern forms of folklore, or collectors of living folklore may not possess a comparative picture of the material they gather. The aim must be to bring different focuses of folklore work to the round-table discussion, remembering that not even folklore theory is one but many, depending on research traditions and the nature of folklore under study. There are deficient or outmoded theories still in circulation as there may be a lack of fruitful analytic aspects, but there are also many both theoretical and practical lessons to be learned from different cultures where genres are not from our textbook or where research has been based on entirely different historical experience.
In other words, there is little ground for European-North American self-sufficiency in folklore matters. The hegemony of this area in international organisations such as the ISFNR is no proof of the natural or right state of affairs. The moment an organisation wants to apply for a status with Unesco, the one-sidedness of member recruitment becomes very apparent. It is ironic that anthropology and folkloristics, which one thinks of as the prime promoters of globally balanced views on cultural heritage, should fail to create a forum for non-imperialistic discussion with full representation of all parts of the world. European-American anthropology has been practically kicked out of its cultural laboratories in the developing countries since the 1950s. Its return has been difficult and requires a perceptive attitude toward the needs and aspirations of emancipated national and regional cultures. Interestingly enough, the folklorists did not smear themselves in this development, because they mainly stayed at home and did not indulge in the colonial enterprise. During recent decades the European folklorists who have stepped outside their own cultural hemisphere have found that their point of departure in the cooperation with non-European cultures is actually better than that of anthropology. It has been possible to create working relationships in folklore between distant countries provided that both parties view each other as equals and offer their experience and technical assistance in joint projects which may involve training of scholars, fieldwork, publishing of materials as well as theoretical work. A respect for each other’s institutions and their definition of the goals of folklore documentation and research is part and parcel of cooperation and may guide the selection of research topics.
Whatever one may think of the Unesco Recommendation for the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore, it certainly opens up broader vistas than nationally or regionally oriented folklorists have been used to. It calls for cooperation on the widest possible scale in the interest of saving for present and future generations, through documentation and by other means, the cultural values inherent in transient expressions of folklore, especially in areas where systematic folkloristic research has not been developed. The lessons that advanced areas can bring to and from less advanced regions of folklore work are the best reward of truly global folkloristics.
The lessons of the FFSS 1991
The general theme of the course was “The Folklore Process”, which refers to the life-history of folklore in any society from its discovery and definition, collection and conservation, analysis and publication to its recycling and use in secondary contexts, revival and adaptation to new forms of transmission and function. The theme was so broad that it served mainly as a background and could not be approached in all its aspects. Available aspects were described in an article distributed in advance both to teachers and students and published in the final programme booklet. Yet the theme was by no means exhausted in the lectures or discussions. On the contrary, it seemed that comprehensive models are more difficult to internalise than special theories. There is some work left before professional folklorists will subsume the folklore process in the present sense as a conceptual tool in their analysis. Yet the step must be taken if we wish to be aware of all the strings that make us puppets, the folklorists, dance.
In practice the programme was divided into (1) lectures with discussion, (2) reports by the participants and subsequent discussion in plenary sessions and (3) group work on fieldwork techniques and computerised archiving plus (4) concrete fieldwork exercises by six field-teams in as many locations at a distance of 30-160 kms from Turku. Another breakdown of the main contents of the course could be (a) modern folkloristic fieldwork, (b) some tools of theoretical analysis, (c) modern folkloristic archiving and (d) problems of applied folklore and the safeguarding of traditional culture. One more dividing line was classroom work versus work out in the field in teams and on two longer excursions rounding up the programme.
The programme was very full. The evenings, too, were utilised for reports, discussion or fieldwork. Thus the time for individual study and technical exercises on one’s own initiative was less than desirable. On the other hand, the intensity of the course probably helped to keep the level of ambition fairly high. One partly unsolved problem was the activities in groups, which had to be divided between technical exercises and discussion with perhaps too limited time resources. Most field-teams developed, however, a good working spirit and produced lots of raw material for archiving exercises. One solution favoured was a videofilm on the fieldwork process itself or on some dominant folkloristic feature of the community visited.
Admittedly, there were language problems on the course. Fieldwork needed interpreters because interviewees spoke Finnish, Swedish and in one area also Russian. The triangle method where two languages are used alternately (e.g. Finnish by the informant and interpreter/scholar and English by the interpreter and visiting scholar) was advertised as a workable solution to short-term documentation, but it did not perhaps convince everybody. Another language problem was the command of English among the participants, which was mostly quite good but in a couple of cases less than desirable. You may be a good expert on folklore but you are not likely to dominate the discussion if your English takes too much time to formulate. Conversely, you can dominate even with less expertise if your English is fluent. What seems to be the solution is that both teachers and participants should be able to use fairly simple or even slightly broken English (fast and eloquent English also creates problems) and that main points could be included in the handouts.
Cultural diversity was one of the assets of the first FFSS, but there were perhaps a few participants who would have been happier with less diversity. This is understandable but it is difficult to promise much compromise in this respect for the future either. Most of us were quite happy to plunge into the different folklore worlds of the Philippines, Iceland, Bulgaria, China, Lapland, Nigeria, Romania, South India, Ireland or Thailand, and this was made possible by the reports presented by the participants for discussion. Some of the individual reports were thematic and concentrated, for example, on composition-in-performance, childrens’ folklore, oral epics, folktale type-indexing, possession rituals, demonology, ethnomusicology or the interpretation of narratives. Most participants gave a second report at thematic discussions on previously selected topics; such subjects as the political functions of folklore, tradition revival, folklorism and folklorisation and fieldwork strategies seemed to interest most.
The titles of the lectures, published in FF Network No. 2 (June 1991), materialised almost without exception. During a few days of the second week the course began to look like a conference at which one esteemed folklorist after another opened up vistas on topics of general importance, e.g. Bente Alver spoke on ethical issues, Bengt Holbek on comparative method, Henry Glassie on material culture, Hermann Bausinger on cultural identity, Roger Abrahams on performance analysis and Viveka Rai on feminist perspectives in the Indian context. The three group leaders (Lauri Honko, Barbro Klein, Anna-Leena Siikala) had the largest number of lecture topics which were more closely integrated with the topical axis (folklore process-fieldwork-archiving-analysis-application and use of folklore) of the training course. Each lecture was followed by a plenary discussion. The amount of information was so plentiful that it could also have been sorted out in group discussions instead of or in addition to the plenum sessions. Some interesting discussions ensued, for example, when Bengt Holbek began to interview Roger Abrahams, Hermann Bausinger and Lauri Honko on the theoretical premises of their early works, or when the basic identity of folkloristic research was contrasted to anthropology, history, literature and sociology.
If the intellectual enjoyment had been rounded off with concerts or receptions in the evenings, the first FFSS would have been another idyllic and pleasant conference. A real difference between a conference and a training course was made by the demand for basic skills in the participants. This was probably the harsh side of the picture. It was also difficult to envisage in advance when reading the lists of merit of the selectees. Only now, after the course, we know that most folklorists have never touched a video camera, have not necessarily produced much soundtape and are not very familiar with a computer keyboard. Even the taking of a photograph may require instruction. This was partly guessed in advance by the organisers but mainly in the sense that the models of instruments available on the course could be new to the participants. What was definitely known to be a novelty was the COLLCARD and ABBA systems used in the archiving of the field collections (these were introduced in the programme booklet). Thus the time allotted for studying all the available instruments, including individual practice, was too limited. To counteract this all the lectures and discussions were turned into “fieldwork” targets and participants took turns in documenting them on video, audio and photo. This operation guarantees that the course is one of the best documented of its kind. We do not plan a publication on the basis of all materials at the moment. What looks more attractive and more in line with the free oral presentations dominating the course would be a video/audio library of the lectures, reports, discussions and also fieldwork events which could be made available at production-cost prices. We have already received some orders.
One of my U.S. colleagues once wrote in a letter that “90 per cent of folklorists do no fieldwork at all”. I am beginning to believe him. I also understand better the attitudes that may prevail, if fieldwork is suddenly stressed. Yet I think that it is the documentation of living folklore which could be the best meeting point for folklorists coming from both technologically advanced and less developed countries. In the basic documentation situation vast archive collections and long academic research traditions count for less than the ability to get immersed in the reality of the other and to return with a reasonably well made document. In this respect folklorists in the Third World countries are no worse off than those of the developed countries. They may need technical resources in order to make better documents, but their material is many times more interesting, at times almost unique, than the materials at the disposal of the folklorists in the West. The crux of the Unesco Recommendation is precisely this: to encourage us all to go wherever valuable traditions are in danger of passing away without a single act of documentation. And to learn international teamwork on the road.
Some might claim that this same programme was being proclaimed about a century ago: “Run! The ethnographical world is in flames!” Plenty of good work got done on the basis of such a simple call. One task of the discussion on the folklore process is to moderate the problem of values in tradition research. From its perspective it is not only the “old” elements (which may not be that old if analysed more closely) that are valuable but rather entire living tradition systems and the people creating and using them. Such a holistic picture is difficult to achieve without good data collection, without dialogue with the best informants (co-researchers, if you will) and without a sense of the cultural identities at play. The task can and should not be left to anthropologists, because they have no knowledge of those aspects of folklore on which we are strong, their attitudes toward material are different (no archives built on data) and at least until recently they have tended to become filters rather than openings to the reality of the other. A modern folklore document permits the voice of the people to be heard exactly as it was uttered.
Many of the lessons of the FFSS 1991 will be pondered in detail by the Organising Committee of the FFSS 1993, the next course to be held probably during August 2-14, 1993 in Turku. It will constitute itself on January 31, 1992. Valuable guidance will be given by the Folklore Fellows Advisory Committee which for the moment has 13 members from 7 countries. The first announcement of the course will be circulated in April 1992 and the deadline for applications will probably be October 31, 1992.
(FFN 3, January 1992: 1-5)