Variation and textuality as keywords

The Organizing Committee of the FF Summer School which consisting of representatives of the folklore departments at the universities of Finland, convened in Helsinki on December 1, 1997. It was agreed that the 4th Summer School held in Lammi and administered by the Department of Folkloristics at the University of Helsinki was very successful, and the rising level of this exercise in scholarly training encouraged the organizers to proceed to the planning of the next course. It was decided that the responsibility of the practical arrangement of the 5th FF Summer School should be in the hands of the folklorists in Turku. Turku was the site of the courses in 1991 and 1993, and the facilities of an educational institute on the outskirts of the city were utilized. Now Turku folklorists want to try another solution and bring the Summer School, during the second and third week of August 1999, to the heart of the two universities in Turku, i.e., the (Finnish-speaking) Turku University and the (Swedish-speaking) Åbo Akademi University. We feel that the setting in the finest historical part of Finland’s oldest urban milieu with its several strata of architecture on the riverbanks and hilltops where the two universities live side by side, almost intertwined, will offer a unique experience for the participants, who will be accommodated in the guest houses of both universities.

The topics of the Summer School have so far been fairly general, ranging
from the life story of folklore in culture to the problems of identity negotiation in a globalizing world. This time the topic will cut a slightly sharper slice from the bread-and-butter methodology of folkloristics. We will focus on a reassessment of the folkloristic theories about variation. Every folklorist must develop a personal theory of variation to be able to handle her/his research materials. The early phases of folkloristics were dominated by methods of comparison based on great theories such as the historic-geographic one. Such theories became part and parcel of folkloristic identity, and their metatheoretical influence continues. The question is: where do we stand now that performance, context, intertextualism, ethnopoetics and many other new concepts have shattered the basics of the comparative method? Or have they?

Several scholars have become interested in creating what we call “thick” materials able to reveal the organic variation of folklore in a tradition system, be it in the mind of one storyteller or singer, or in an interactive social group or a cohesive cultural region. This approach often requires field work, because the materials to be culled from publications and archive collections are often scattered, contextless and thin.

We have in mind several research projects where the density of the basic materials has been raised through multiple documentation of various kinds. It is our intention to analyze the experiences gained in empirical work and teach the appropriate methodology. “Thick” materials can also be created in the so-called developing countries with low-cost techniques provided that the collector knows what he is doing.

Another keyword will be “textuality”. From where does a performance, a narrative or a song, draw its cohesion and meaning? From the performer, from the oral “text”, from the context of performance, from the audience or from a combination of sources? What is the role of poetics and style in the process and how do the “rules of tradition” manifest themselves in performance or in the mental editing process of “oral text” between performances?

There will be a symposium-cum-workshop on the topic of Variation and Textuality in Traditional Epics organized by the Kalevala Institute in Turku in mid-August 1999 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the (New) Kalevala. The FF Summer School will visit the symposium and discuss with invited epic scholars.

Other special themes may emerge, through guest lecturers or a Nordic research group presently in the making. The Congress Secretariat is open to suggestions along these lines. It held its first meeting on December 17, 1997 in Turku. The following officers were elected:

Lauri Honko, Chair (TU/Kalevala Institute)
Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Vice Chair (TU)
Ulrika Wolf-Knuts, Secretary General (ÅU)
Maria Vasenkari, Course Secretary (TU)
Pasi Enges, Supporting-staff Coordinator (TU)

The formal announcement of the 5th Folklore Fellows’ Summer School will be published in the March 1998 issue of FF Network.

Lauri Honko
Chair, FFSS 1999

(FFN 14, December 1997: 17)

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