Folk or Lore? The Stake in Dichotomies

The divide between folklorists is not between the academy and the public sector. Academic and public sector folklorists are educators, and the differences between them are largely matters of contact hours, venue, and the preparation of the audience. The great divide between folklorists is between those who regard folklore as an intellectual inquiry and those who regard it as an ethical enterprise. The first approach puts the premium on the "lore" and pursues questions concerning tradition, transmission, art, and identity. The second puts the premium on the "folk" and the desire to ameliorate the circumstances of marginalized social, ethnic, religious, or occupational groups in the effort to create a more "humane and just world." Rather than being complementary, the approaches are at odds: the intellectual approach starts with questions while the ethical approach begins with answers. The distinction between these approaches becomes most visible when laboriously won knowledge of folklore processes is discounted or ignored in the pursuit of socially and culturally reparative agendas.