The FF Summer School held at the University of Turku on August 2-14, 1993 was the second international course for researchers to be arranged by the Folklore Fellows and the Finnish folkloristics establishments. The theme, “Tradition and Renewal in the Folklore Process”, was chosen as a result of the “Folklore Process” summer school held in 1991 and grew out of the idea that the role of folklore and oral tradition is becoming increasingly important in the present-day world. The globalization of information over the past few decades has constituted a threat to the future of both local cultures and ethnic minority cultures. The maintenance and development of distinctive cultural traditions are important in order to safeguard the richness and diversity of the world’s cultural heritage. Researchers and decision-makers attacking the problems of modern urban cultures are also displaying a growing interest in the human voices and experiences expressed in folklore.
The course entitled “Tradition and Renewal in the Folklore Process” tried to concentrate on the transformation processes of folklore, problems of its use, interpretation and adaptation in various cultural contexts. Another of the goals was to establish a global forum for debate on the theoretical premises of folklore research. Although the emphasis in research is at the moment still on Europe and America, the interest displayed in the rich traditions of Asia and Africa indicates that the role of these continents will in the future be considerably enhanced. This is also to be hoped for in many ways. The predominance of Western views in the theoretical debate has contributed to the narrowing of the perspectives on the understanding of folklore. Genuine dialogue between scholars representing different continents and cultural traditions can alone create a situation permitting a comprehensive approach to folklore phenomena. The organizers accordingly tried to ensure that news of the summer school reached folklorists in West and East, North and South.
The Summer School attracted considerable interest. Despite the economic recession, 120 applications were received in all from 39 countries. Applications from outside Western and Northern Europe were submitted from African countries (19), Southern Asia (31), Eastern and Central Asia and the Middle East (17), North and South America (10) and Eastern Europe (21). One striking feature was the high standard of the applicants, including 52 university teachers and professors, 26 researchers, 29 postgraduates working for a doctorate, 4 archivists and 9 persons in influential cultural posts. The majority of the applicants were aged between 36 and 50, and a third of them were under 35. The gender distribution of the applicants suggested that women and men are equally interested in folkloristics in the world today. The 30 participants in the course were selected according to the need for training and interest expressed in their applications, and so that different countries and continents were represented as evenly as possible.
The lectures in the morning
The emphasis of the two-week course was this time on theoretical lectures and discussions. The morning lectures were followed by afternoon sessions in small groups dealing with specific themes, and regional colloquies. The lectures dealt with fundamental issues of folkloristics. The opening lecture by Research Professor Lauri Honko dealt with the adaptation and renewal of tradition in the folklore process, while Professor Anna-Leena Siikala examined oral tradition as a representation of cultural awareness. Problems of folklore, discourse and genre were addressed by Professor Galit Hasan-Rokem and Docent Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj; the former spoke of the genres of folklore as means of communication and the latter of modes of folkloristic discourse. The lectures on the third day were devoted to folklore scholarship traditions. Professor Jawaharlal Handoo examined schools of research in developing countries with special reference to Indian folklore, comparing them with the research tradition of the Western world. Associate Professor Satu Apo talked about recent trends in European folklore, and Dr. Barbro Klein about American folklore research from a European perspective. Discussion of the present state of folkloristics in the developing countries continued the following day, when Professors Handoo and Honko attempted to set a course for a more balanced research strategy and outlined ongoing projects involving collaboration between scholars in developing countries and the West.
The lectures in the second week of the school concentrated on such subjects as the ethics and politics of tradition research, and gender – a theme taken up by Professor Barbara Babcock, Professor Aili Nenola and Dr. Barbro Klein. The examination of the performance, meaning and textualization of folklore shifted the perspective to the manifestations, recording and use of folklore. Professor Galit Hasan-Rokem presented some new angles on the interpretation of living tradition. Professor Charles Briggs also spoke of the study of living folklore, textualization, recontextualization and intertextuality. The paper by Dr. Lauri Harvilahti on national identity and models of textualization looked ahead to the theme for the following day, the relationships between folklore and identity, expounded by Professors Lauri Honko and Anna-Leena Siikala.
Group work in the afternoon
One major item in the work of the Summer School consisted of the working groups concentrating on specific themes; these also issued final reports on their papers. The members of the groups were selected in advance according to their stated research problems, but nevertheless so that each group contained representatives of the different continents and postgraduates. In addition to discussing individual research problems and the joint theme, the groups thus tried to create the prerequisites for intercultural dialogue.
Group I, led by Galit Hasan-Rokem, examined problems of the performance and meaning of folklore. During the first week members of the group gave one-hour papers on their own research projects. These were used by the group as a basis for discussion, paying special attention to methodology and comparative aspects. During the second week the group concentrated on fieldwork, including practice in e.g. video techniques.
Group II, led by Aili Nenola, concentrated on women’s research and chose as its overall theme the cultural construction of gender. The expertise of Professor Barbara Babcock was consulted during the discussions. The special theme was the study of rituals from the gender perspective. The idea was to examine the marking and presentation of the genders in situations in which cultural concepts and social structures are expressed and reinforced. The group attended a local wedding and funeral and prepared a brief report on its observations. This brought out the complexities of observing rituals and the ease with which a group of six female researchers merged with the community (a group of men would have attracted attention), the alien nature of the events and contexts in the eyes of persons from another culture, and the marked emphasis on gender roles. The discussion following the report covered such areas as the way gender determines cultural participation, and the use of social space in different societies. Among the points raised were the differences between African and European cultures in the rituals of birth, maturity, marriage and death. The different conceptualizations of the relationships between the individual and the community were viewed as one reason for these disparities. The participants’ reports on their own research subjects stressed the discovery of folklore both old and new and of theoretical interpretation from the gender point of view. Some of the themes concentrated on cultural phenomena that were clearly specific to women, while others raised theoretical problems of the genderoriented interpretation of language and discourse.
The research subjects of the members of Group III, led by Anna-Leena Siikala and entitled “History, folklore and identity”, were, despite their geographical and cultural differences, closely akin to one another. Instead of conducting fieldwork, the group decided to concentrate on examining participants’ own research problems and developing a joint theoretical framework. The report “Dynamics of tradition” issued by the group examines folklore processes in the formation of identity. Special attention was paid to conflicts within the folklore community, negotiation and renegotiation in striving towards consensus, and the rhetorics of identity. The group also tried to identify the components of identity and to examine in the light of case analyses how the dynamics of tradition operate in the historical processes of national, ethnic and local identity formation.
Group IV, led by Barbro Klein, addressed itself to the techniques of ethnography. Members brought up special problems of field work in their own countries. The demands of ethnographical fieldwork in a familiar and an alien environment proved to be a theoretical problem. In their field exercises the group concentrated on the latter problem and analysed the effects of the observer’s cultural background on a video filmed at a local market. The group also discussed the potential of various field tools, the ethics of interviewing, questions of transcription and translation, and problems of archiving, cataloguing and the application of Western terminology.
Lauri Harvilahti and Charles Briggs led Group V in an examination of national identity and identity symbols. After scrutinizing the origins of nationhood and national states in Europe, the groups discussed the role of folklore in the identity construction of countries such as Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Latvia, Mongolia, Russia, Scotland, Serbia and Venezuela. Three central conclusions emerged from the discussions. First: nationalism is not a unitary phenomenon and it may be dangerous to apply the label to too wide a range of cases. Second: the cases examined by the group involve quite different social and political processes and the role that folklore and folkloristics plays in the various examples is far from identical. Finally, the phenomena labelled with the term nationalism always involve other rhetorics, types of social relations and political aims.
Regional colloquia and excursion
Almost all the course members also took part in the regional colloquies, the theme of which was “Centres, identities, and dialogue in folklore scholarship”. The most energetic African and Asian section was interested in the great change that has befallen the cultures of these continents. An object of research has become the subject of research capable of defining both its goals and the conditions for achieving it. The American and European section discussed the potential for dialogue between centres, and the Nordic section the theme “Periphery and the European Legacy”.
Although the 1993 Summer School could not, in view of the meagre financial resources available, provide much instruction in the field documentation and computerized archiving of folklore, these subjects were nevertheless dealt with during the course. Once again the days proved too short, and there was not much time left after the group work for individual practice with the technical equipment. The school outing headed for Helsinki, where participants visited the Folklore Archive of the Finnish Literature Society and the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum.
Hopes were expressed that more instruction could in future be provided in folklore fieldwork and archiving techniques. On the other hand the participants were satisfied with the theoretical lectures, and the group work was said to be very rewarding. Many of those attending the school welcomed just such an opportunity to meet folklorists from different environments. The speakers in the discussion on the future of folkloristics stressed the importance of contacts and cooperation in the future, too. The scholars from Asian and African countries in particular requested the development of information exchange. Details of new research projects should be circulated efficiently. A channel should also be established for distributing modern and relevant literature to countries unable to purchase the costly products of Western publishers. There is thus a need for some sort of information bank in order to strengthen and further cooperation between folklorists.
Chair, FFSS Organizing Committee
(FFN 7, November 1993: 5-7)