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Meaning of Folklore

The Analytical Essays of Alan Dundes

Simon J. Bronner

Publication Year: 2007

The essays of Alan Dundes virtually created the meaning of folklore as an American academic discipline. Yet many of them went quickly out of print after their initial publication in far-flung journals. Brought together for the first time in this volume compiled and edited by Simon Bronner,  the selection surveys Dundes's major ideas and emphases, and is introduced by Bronner with a thorough analysis of Dundes's long career, his interpretations, and his inestimable contribution to folklore studies.

Runner-up, the Wayland Hand Award for Folklore and History, 2009

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. v-vi

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xv

This is a book that Alan Dundes should have put together, or so I told him. He probably would have done it, had not death in March 2005 put a halt to his tremendous production. The project came about after I read his proposal for a new compilation of his essays following Bloody Mary in the Mirror (2002a). I wanted him to do something different from what he planned. Rather than adding another capsule of writing, I cheekily ...

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pp. 1-35

In a reflective moment upon reaching forty years of age, Alan Dundes introduced his first collection of essays with the declaration, “My principal research interests focus upon the analysis of folklore” (1975g, xi). His emphasis of analysis signaled an unusual take on intellectual purpose. Most scholars respond to the question of inter-ests with a genre, period, or location. Dundes, however, committed himself to the broad ...


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pp. 36-50

Part I: Structure and Analysis

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1. Folklore as a Mirror of Culture

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pp. 53-66

Alan Dundes was considered a master teacher as well as a scholar. His study of folklore offers insight into instruction, since folklore is an essential way that cultural knowledge and wisdom is passed down from generation to generation and from peer to peer. He practiced what he preached, for in 1994 he received a distinguished teaching award from the University of California at Berkeley, an accolade he greatly cherished. In his own ...

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2. The Study of Folklore in Literature and Culture: Identification and Interpretation

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pp. 67-76

At the time Dundes wrote this essay, during the 1960s, most scholars concerned with the study of folklore aligned with either literary or anthropological camps, a result of their educational background or organizational affiliation in a humanities or social science department. Dundes observed that what he called the “binary division” in the field had literary scholars, on one side, stressing the text and anthropologists, on the other...

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3. Metafolklore and Oral Literary Criticism

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pp. 77-87

Dundes combines the linguistic concept of “metalanguage” (a language used to make statements about other languages) with literary criticism (usually associated with thematic readings of expressive language in novels and poetry) to propose an “oral literary criticism” using the evidence of “metafolklore.” Dundes defined oral literary criticism as...

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4. From Etic to Emic Units in the Structural Study of Folktales

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pp. 88-106

Dundes opened this essay on folk material with a binary division of diachronic and synchronic perspectives of time. Diachronic approached the development of material historically, whereas synchronic analysis examined items contemporaneously. Dundes observed that diachronic approaches had dominated thinking about folklore, leading, he argued, ...

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5. How Indic Parallels to the Ballad of the “Walled-Up Wife” Reveal the Pitfalls of Parochial Nationalistic Folkloristics

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pp. 107-122

Dundes frequently emphasized the need for cross-cultural research, with the goal of forming an international folkloristics. He complained of a tendency among scholars to divide folklore into national categories, which might lead to problematic claims that traditions belong to a unique location. In cross-cultural comparisons, Dundes identified key features that remain consistent across cultures, as well as those distinctive details that are part of ...

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6. Structuralism and Folklore

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pp. 123-153

Dundes used structuralism to define and compare folklore genres, and, methodologically, as the key element of an analytic step—deriving cultural meaning—in an objective science of folkloristics. He defined structuralism as the “study of the interrelationships or organization of the component parts of an item of folklore,” and was especially drawn to Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp’s morphology, which designated functions of dramatis personae ...

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7. On Game Morphology: A Study of the Structure of Non-Verbal Folklore

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pp. 154-163

This essay is included as a demonstration of Dundes’s structural analysis, derived from methods introduced by Vladimir Propp and other Russian formalists. But its statement on the materials covered by folkloristic inquiry is even more significant. In 1964, when this essay was published, most folklore studies focused on what was called “oral literature.” Dundes showed the domination of narrative in folkloristic thought by pointing out the ...

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8. The Devolutionary Premise in Folklore Theory

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pp. 164-176

To encourage the “modern” or American break of folkloristics from its intellectual parent, nineteenth-century European folklore studies, thirty-three-year-old Dundes criticized his elders for holding a deep bias against progress. It was an extension of another historiographical argument in his earlier essay “From Etic to Emic Units in the Structural Study of Folktales” (1962g, and chapter 4 in this volume)—namely, that modern structural and ...

Part II: Worldview and Identity

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9. Folk Ideas as Units of Worldview

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pp. 179-195

The opening essay of this section is significant for its groundbreaking interpretation of worldview in folkloristic terms. Dundes was not the first to point to the interpretation of worldview as a valuable goal of cultural study, but he made a tremendous contribution by proposing that worldview—a concept often noted for its diffuseness and vagueness—could be clarified with reference to the fundamental units of analysis he called “folk ideas.” ...

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10. As the Crow Flies: A Straightforward Study of Lineal Worldview in American Folk Speech

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pp. 196-210

Dundes cited Dorothy Lee’s “Codifications of Reality: Lineal and Nonlineal” ([1950] 1968) as the inspiration for his rhetorical analysis of American speech, in which he sought evidence of a lineal worldview. Introducing Lee’s essay in his anthology Every Man His Way, Dundes praised it as a work in “comparative cognition,” pointing out that “the perception and classification of ‘objective reality’ is not culture-free, no matter how ardently ...

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11. Much Ado About “Sweet Bugger All”: Getting to the Bottom of a Puzzle in British Folk Speech

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pp. 211-228

Dundes’s frequent reference to folklore’s homoerotic symbolism, which is missed by scholars who are narrowly focused on genre studies, supported Freud’s view that homosexuality was “constitutional,” or innate, in humans, but was socially suppressed. Freudian theory holds that society inhibits same-sex affection, especially for males, and individuals deal with the restraint by expressing their desires, as well as frustrations, in symbols found in ...

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12. Grouping Lore: Scientists and Musicians

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pp. 229-248

Addressing the question “Who are the folk?” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1977, Dundes told the group identifying themselves as scientists that he understood the popular perception that “folklore is precisely what science has advanced from” (see Bascom 1977). Dundes declared that the notion that science displaces folklore was false. One reason this fallacy arose, he explained, was the European ...

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13. Medical Speech and Professional Identity

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pp. 249-269

Showing that medical professionals constituted a folk group, with a complex of subgroups (physicians by specialty and school background, residents at different stages of develop-ment, and nurses assigned to different units), fit into Dundes’s general goal of demonstrating that elite scientific groups defined their group identity through folklore. Their communication is replete with slang and story that express their relation to one another, and ...

Part III: Symbol and Mind

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14. Getting the Folk and the Lore Together

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pp. 273-284

This essay addresses the connection of Dundes’s folkloristic perspective with semiotics, concisely defined as the study of signs. The ideas in it became central to his symbolist approach in “Projection in Folklore” (1976a), which was incorporated in Interpreting Folklore (1980b), and it stood as a manifesto for a psychoanalytic enterprise within folkloristics. Dundes originally wrote it in 1975 as a presentation to the Charles Sanders Peirce ...

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15. Gallus as Phallus: A Psychoanalytic Cross-Cultural Consideration of the Cockfight as Fowl Play

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pp. 285-318

A year before Dundes died, he reflected on his tremendous output of essays in over forty years of publishing and told me that the present essay could be his “most important and significant,” although he noted that others probably have received more attention. His regard for this study, originally published in 1993, was due to the way it integrated several important positions he took through his career. First, it exemplified a folkloristic...

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16. The Symbolic Equivalence of Allomotifs: Towards a Method of Analyzing Folktales

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pp. 319-326

Folktales contain fantasy and more often than not, the fan tasy is expressed through symbols. Folktale plots are filled with a wide variety of incredible magical transformations, objects and powers (cf. the D or Magic motifs in the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature), and since no one has ever offered solid evidence of the actual existence of a self-grinding salt-mill (D 1601.21.1) or a magic object which answers for a fugitive ...

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17. Earth-Diver: Creation of the Mythopoeic Male

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pp. 327-351

Few anthropologists are satisfied with the present state of scholarship with respect to primitive mythology. While not everyone shares Lévi-Strauss’s extreme pessimistic opinion that from a theoretical point of view the study of myth is “very much the same as it was fifty years ago, namely a picture of chaos” (1958:50), still there is general agreement that much remains to be done in elucidating the processes of the formation, ...

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18. Theses on Feces: Scatological Analysis

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pp. 352-381

I should advise readers that the present rubric of “Theses on Feces,” along with the previous headings of “Grouping Lore” and “Medical Speech and Professional Identity,” are mine. They thematize sets of exemplary essays that Dundes wrote. In the present case, my title denotes his frequent references to scatological themes in folklore. The significance of this feculent topic is more than the taboo or censorship commonly surrounding its frank, ...

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19. The Ritual Murder or Blood Libel Legend: A Study of Anti-Semitic Victimization through Projective Inversion

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pp. 382-409

This essay brings out an important principle in Alan Dundes’s work—that folkloristic analysis can help combat bigotry by illuminating the cause and content of material used to maintain prejudice from generation to generation. One problem he encountered was that collectors avoided or repressed offensive texts, because they did not fit into their preconceived image of folklore as charming and quaint. Dundes countered that the collectors’ ...

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20. On the Psychology of Collecting Folklore

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pp. 410-425

The question that drives this provocative essay is from Dundes’s senior mentor at Indiana University, Richard Dorson: “Why does the collector gather and publish tales?” Known for being a productive writer, Dorson answered the question with three motivating goals: Money, Art, and Truth. Dorson coined the term “fakelore”—used by Dundes in the present essay to negatively describe commercial, cleverly packaged, uncritical, and random...


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pp. 427-443

E-ISBN-13: 9780874216844
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216837

Page Count: 443
Publication Year: 2007