Chapter 4: Types of Folk Groups
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65 DOI: 10.7330/9780874219067.c004 Chapter 4 Types of Folk Groups It may seem a bit arbitrary to pluck just a few random folk groups from the vast array of possibilities to talk about here, but too bad, because that’s what we’re going to do. There are some groups that folklorists have studied more than others, and it’s more likely that a student in a folklore class will have the opportunity to collect from some groups rather than others, and the examples here reflect those realities. In this chapter we’re going to look at folk groups based on work, age, beliefs, and interests, considering some of the main types of folklore that crop up in them. If you’re interested in a folk group that’s not discussed here, that’s okay—it’s likely that you’ll still gain some insights that can translate. Remember that a folk group is half the equation of folklore: when folklorists looks at a given folk group, they’re seeking the folklore that exists within that group as a means to better understand that group as a cultural unit. While certain types or genres of folklore may exist more in one kind of folk group than another (college students may be heavy on the legends while a workplace may have many customs), it’s important to note that any kind of folklore can appear in a given folk group: to say that there’s such a thing as “occupational folklore” or “campus folklore” is not to say that these are types of folklore distinct from other genres such as legends, jokes, and customs. It’s simply to apply a shared theme (occupation, education) to all the legends, material objects, and customs that can be found in that group. It’s important to keep the distinction between “folk” (the group of people) and Types of Folk Groups 66 “lore” (the genres or forms of expression) straight: a folklorist can approach the field from either or both of these angles, starting with a particular group (college students), a particular type of folklore (political jokes), or the intersection of both (political jokes told by college students). We should also remember that many folk groups have both folk and institutional components to them. Occupations have the rules and regulations of the company, along with the stuff that a new employee learns informally from coworkers on the job. Religions have the doctrinal expectations for believers, along with the cultural expectations that come from the community rather than from the officials. In these instances, the word alongside is often used to describe the relationship between the folk and official cultures of the group. Folk religion exists alongside the institutional aspects of a religion; occupational folklore exists alongside the business’s rules and regulations. This emphasizes an important fact about the culture of folk groups: the folk culture is no more or less important than the official culture.1 It doesn’t exist above or beneath the official culture, but right next to it, affecting how we act toward, interact with, and react to the other people in the group. My students one semester came up with a great example of this: the cultural knowledge we have about driving a car. The folk group here is a broad one—people who are licensed drivers. On the institutional level, members of this folk group are aware of the many legal requirements for drivers: that they be licensed and that they take an official test in order to become so, that they obey traffic lights and speed limits, that they wear a seatbelt and have working turn signals and lights, and so on. On the folk level, we have the common folk belief that you are allowed to drive up to five miles per hour over the speed limit without getting a ticket,2 we have the custom of kissing your hand and hitting the roof of your car when you drive through a yellow light, of lifting your feet when you go over train tracks or a cattle guard, of holding your breath through a tunnel or past a cemetery. We know that cars with only one working headlight are called padiddles (or perdiddles, spadoodles, or padinkles), that the proper acknowledgment for being allowed to merge ahead of someone in heavy traffic is a friendly wave, and that Types of Folk Groups 67 we pass time on long car rides by playing the license plate game...