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date: 06 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Introducing the contents of The Oxford Handbook of American Folklore and Folklife Studies, this essay first reviews major English-language handbooks for the study of folklore and folklife since the late nineteenth century. It finds that the handbooks produced for the United States claimed special conditions in the country such as the diversity and mobility of its population that necessitated distinctive approaches to the subject. The study of American folklore and folklife studies embraced the study of contemporary culture and nonpeasant groups. Second, the essay reviews various definitions of folklore and folklife produced by American folklorists and the spread of process-oriented perspectives initially in performance and later in practice-oriented definitions. A background for definitional debates is the tension between advocates for conceptualizations of folklore as verbal art or communication and folklife as an ethnological or sociological subject and efforts in the twenty-first century to integrate the two. Toward this end, the essay closes with a general outline of folkloristic inquiry: (1) establishment of a problem statement or thesis, (2) the identification and annotation of folk material and processes in depth, (3) engagement of analysis and proposal of explanation, and (4) formation of implications and applications. Although authors in the handbook discuss methods specific to their fields, the introduction contends that the outline consistently is used. Common characteristics of folklore and folklife studies are identified, including attention to traditional knowledge; variable, repeated cultural practices; and everyday life.

Keywords: folklife, folklore, folkloristics, heritage, historiography, methodology, nationalism, performance, practice theory, woodcarving

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