I’m celebrating 10 years of blogging by…starting a new column! If you know me from my time spent at other blogs, welcome; you know what to expect in terms of the alchemy of scholarship and snark.
If you’re a new reader, greetings! I chose the title “Foxy Folklorist” to cheekily indicate that I’m primarily writing to bring academic folklore topics to the masses, but with a focus on being accessible and funny (should I manage the latter). I also have a scholarly focus on gender and sexuality and sex education, so while sexuality topics are generally frowned on in academia due to their lack of objectivity and respectability, well, here I am.
In one sense, folklore is a funny topic to bring to a blog and a webspace oriented around secular notions. Folklore doesn’t care if there’s belief involved or not; the current definition of folklore, generated by my colleague Lynne McNeill in her book Folklore Rules, is informally transmitted traditional culture. Folklore is shared culture, culture that sticks around long enough to exhibit tradition and also variation (since the variants of jokes and slang and so on are potentially endless; folklore is rarely constrained by the written form and the hidebound stodginess of institutional culture).
You might have noticed that the definition of folklore I just shared doesn’t include any orientation towards belief or truth value. Some folklore happens to be true (such as folk remedies that tap into something medically viable). Most folklore is not technically true. But it’s true on a human level: it speaks to our values, our beliefs, our thoughts, our emotions. Nobody thinks that Cinderella is a real person, or that a priest and a rabbi actually walked into a bar together…but in sharing these expressions, we share something about ourselves: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s why so many urban legends, fairy tales, and jokes conform to rigid gender roles and mock “deviant” forms of sexuality: social anxieties are transferred into our art forms, and folklore is no exception.
There’s plenty of religious folklore out there; religious folklore is what happens when official/institutional forms of religion butt up against what people actually do in their lives to celebrate holidays, pray, build altars, observe food taboos, and so on. And I do study that, a tiny bit.
What I’m curious about now is secular folklore. If folklore is the composite of folk and lore, and any group of people with something in common can be a folk group…what’s our lore, as secular people? Where does our shared identity materialize as shared lore, whether it be verbal, customary, or material in nature? If we pride ourselves on being non-religious, does that mean we tidily exclude the potential for spiritual/religious belief in all our folklore? Or just the parts of our folklore that have grabbed our attention and demanded self-reflection? Do atheists and agnostics consciously reject folklore that seems too fantastical in a religious direction?
At this point, I have more questions than answers, which actually is pretty normal for me (if you’ve followed my internet presence, you’ll know that I don’t always get to leap into the research topics that catch my eye because I’m among the almost-75% of college instructors who are contingent, aka lecturers or adjuncts, according to the American Association of University Professors, so, er, often I’m more worried about securing a way to pay rent next year than chasing down that cool new research topic).
Oh yeah and I write about academic labor topics and education more generally. Fun stuff.
So, welcome to my new web presence. If you want to know more about folklore, please check out my new book Folklore 101: An Accessible Introduction to Folklore Studies. And definitely stick around here at the Foxy Folklorist as I write more and find my voice as a public intellectual/cultural critic sort of writer.