Local and Global Processes in Folklore Studies
Folklore Fellows’ Summer School 1997

The preparations for the FFSS 97 are proceeding at full speed. The deadline for the applications was October 31, 1996, but we are still receiving applications. Due to the fact that it takes a long time to mail a letter to Finland, at least from some countries, we consider the deadline as negotiable. At least 30 participants will be elected for the course. We have, so far, received applications representing five continents and 35 countries: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Nigeria, New Zeeland, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Tadzhikistan, Turkey, Sweden and the USA. By the end of November we will make the final (and difficult) choice between the applicants.

The University of Helsinki runs three biological research stations. One of them is situated in Lammi – a parish in Southern Finland about one hundred kilometres from Helsinki. There are no big cities in the area, and only some 6,000 inhabitants are living in the whole parish of 600 square kilometres. The countryside around Lammi is typically Finnish, with lakes and forests. Lammi is famous for its home-brewed beer (called sahti), and flax growing used to be among the main sources of livelihood. The parish does not have much industry. The 4th Folklore Fellows’ Summer School will be held in this natural agrarian milieu.

Multicultural processes and ethnic identity

The main topic of the fourth Folklore Fellows’ Summer School (1997) is: Tradition, Locality and Multicultural Processes. The participants will be divided into five working groups: 1. Myth, politics, and construction of traditions, 2. Folklore, local history, and landscape, 3. Presenting the self and ethnicity, 4. Poetics of age and gender, and 5. Epic traditions and ethnic identity. The work in the groups will consist (as usual) of discussions on the general theme of the group, presentations of individual reports and a short exercise in folkloristic documentation.

One of the main tasks of the coming FFSS 97 is to illustrate various processes of using folklore in diverse historical and contemporary conditions. After examining a series of cases from different continents, we hope to be able to focus on specific problems from a broad perspective. Since the participants on our training course represent practically the whole world, we have a challenging opportunity to compare a wide range of cultural and socio-political frames of reference. It is also clear that the role played by folklore and folkloristics in the various cases is not identical. We are, therefore, looking forward to some fruitful discussion during the lectures, in the working groups, and the presentation of the final reports.

Symposium on ethnocultural identity in Asia

A special workshop dedicated to questions of ethnocultural identity in Asia will be organized during the FFSS 97. Contemporary cultural and social processes have enhanced the importance of research on cultural diversity in Asia – the continuity of traditions, cultural practices and values, and languages. A notable transition process is taking place in various parts of Asia at the moment, in most cases due to the growth of the economic potential of Asian countries in the world market. This situation also involves the rapid development of intercultural communication and global multicultural processes. During these processes many traditional Asian cultures are facing situations that might cause inevitable changes in the religious worldview and other cultural values, oral and literary traditions, and in other domains of the cultural heritage. Ethnocultural identity is a very complex phenomenon, and it would be difficult to create a model or definition that covers the variety of cases we have in contemporary Asia. But we may discuss some particular cases of ethnic diversity and cultural meanings, by examining the examples given by the teachers and participants on the training course.

The lectures and discussions of the workshop will be carried out in collaboration with teachers and participants from Asian countries.

Local and global perspectives of identity

In analyzing folklore materials as an integral part of social life, we are not merely dealing with units having a given order, stable structure, or fixed meaning but rather with continuous negotiations of cultural agents in the flow of everyday social processes. Different local and global strategies enable us to choose from an infinite number of possible realizations that correspond to various expectations, intentions, and power relations. This means that folklore processes may involve strivings to create continuity, cohesion and coherence, but also vital new interpretations and new combinations of verbal and behavioural representations of pre-existing elements that form a prerequisite for living folklore traditions.

In order to understand, at least partially, the meaning of traditions as interpreted in different times and places, we need to have comparative knowledge about the history of philosophy, mentality and dominant ideological tendencies. This demand is especially important when we are dealing with civilizations having long historical roots, a history of multilayered cultural and philosophical currents, and long mutual influences between oral and literary traditions, as in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent or China.

During this decade one of the key issues in folkloristics has been research on the ideological and social power of folklore texts. The creators, compilers and interpreters of these texts have been in focus as well: poets, philosophers, leading cultural activists, specialists in various fields of research. Is it possible to create general analytic tools that would help us to elucidate the complex network of power relations and ideological forces that folklore and folklorists possess in different social and global contexts? Or should we treat each particular use of folklore in cultural life separately? It might be instructive to see the folklore processes against the background of the cultural history, currents of philosophy, ideological trends and political situations, since the processes of creating, collecting, preserving and using folklore are taking place in constantly changing socio-historical, cultural and ideological settings. Thus, folklore processes in different local and global circumstances can be seen as the intersection of several conditions – as a multilevel and multi-dimensional network of possible connections and interdepences.

Lauri Harvilahti

(FFN 13, November 1996: 6-7)

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