Folklore Studies

Folklore Studies


the study of folklore, or folk arts. The scope of folklore studies and their place among the other disciplines have changed over the years in accordance with changing scholarly viewpoints. At times, folklore studies have been considered a branch of ethnology, and at other times, an offshoot of literary studies or musicology. They have also been viewed as an auxiliary discipline of such fields of study as sociology and the history of culture. Contemporary folklore studies are gradually becoming an independent discipline within the overall field of the arts, and their classification and methodology are being developed. Folklore studies investigate written works, songs, instrumental music, dance, drama, and other collective manifestations of folk creativity.

For centuries before the emergence of folklore studies, works of folklore were collected and recorded; they were also adapted by writers, playwrights, and composers in many countries. In Europe the 18th-century humanists promoted an interest in folklore. In Russia, humanist traditions found new expression in the folkloristic concepts of the 19th-century revolutionary democrats.

The study of folk art was also stimulated by the development of romanticism. Within romanticism, the mythological school of folklore studies was founded by the brothers J. Grimm and W. Grimm. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the main trends in folklore studies were the migration theory (theory of borrowing) of T. Benfey, the ethnological theory of E. B. Tylor (the anthropological school), the ethnopsychological method of W. Wundt, and the historical-geographical (Finnish) school of J. Krohn and K. Krohn. The greatest Russian folklorists included A. N. Afanas’ev, F. I. Buslaev, Aleksandr N. Veselovskii, P. V. Kireevskii, and A. N. Pypin. In the 20th century a sociological interpretation of folklore gained in importance; in Russia this approach became the historical school of V. F. Miller.

All the above trends used the methodology of evolutionism and positivism but at the same time were predecessors of the next stage in the development of folklore studies. The idealist trends in 20th-century folklore studies have been most clearly reflected in the psychoanalytic, neomythological, and ritual-magic schools of Western European and American folklore studies. In the mid-1950’s the structuralism of C. Lévi-Strauss became the main trend of folklore studies and the subject of sharp polemics.

The dialectical materialist study of folklore is based on the classics of Marxism, as seen in studies by P. Lafargue, F. Mehring, A. Gramsci, G. V. Plekhanov, A. V. Lunacharskii, and M. Gorky, as well as by many Soviet folklorists and foreign Marxist scholars. The founders of Soviet folklore studies included M. K. Azadovskii, V. M. Zhirmunskii, K. V. Kvitka, B. V. Asaf ev, V. la. Propp, B. M. Sokolov, and Iu. M. Sokolov.

Soviet Marxist folklorists in the USSR and in the other socialist countries view folklore as a socially conditioned and continuously developing form of folk creativity. They study the unique features and mutual influences of the folklore of different peoples, focusing on the reflection in the folk arts of actual life, of national liberation movements, and of revolutionary struggles. Special attention is devoted to folklore traditions that have persisted in modern times. Soviet Marxist folklore studies also help assimilate progressive folk traditions into socialist art. Numerous works of folklore are being collected, and new methodological techniques are being used, as well as new technical means of recording and interpreting works of folklore. The modern tendency toward an integrated study of the various types of folk art suggests that folklore studies will eventually become a synthetic discipline.

The main international folkloristic organizations are the Folklore Fellows, the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore of UNESCO, and the International Folk Music Council. The folkloristic organizations in the USSR are the Scientific Council on Folklore of the Department of Literature and Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the All-Union Folklore Commission of the Composers’ Union of the USSR.


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