2. Groups
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30 Chapter 2 Groups If folklore is a way of learning and a way of communicating, then there must be a group of people who need to communicate something to each other. Defining a folk group by how and what it communicates allows us to look at groups formed and maintained by informal means—those not constructed formally as groups by founders with particular rules and guidelines, but held together by the practices and expressions of their members. This is one of the tenets of folklore scholarship: that informal or unofficial shared knowledge is a defining feature of a folk group. The concept of folk group has evolved radically over time.The early assumptions that folk groups were somehow different from the rest of us and were primarily rural, uneducated, or primitive yielded to the understanding that all of us share folklore every day. Folklorists established that we all belong to folk groups and that groups also exist in urban, contemporary settings (see, for instance, Dundes 1980). Today, digital technology provides extended opportunities for groups to form and communicate in new ways. A great deal of folklore research in recent years has focused on how online communities form and communicate and how they share traditions. This research has opened up new understanding of what groups are and what constitutes informal shared knowledge —folklore itself. Most importantly, the ability of people to come together online as groups and the complexity of online interactions demonstrate the dynamic process of sharing and creating folklore. As the innovations presented by the Internet show us, folklorists cannot always know how our understanding of groups, and the groups themselves, will evolve. But it is clear that once we let go of the notion that folk groups are quaint or old fashioned, we can see that people are the central component of all 31 Groups folklore. Folklore does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it only come to us out of a misty, idealized past. People share jokes, stories, games, traditions, beliefs, and customs every day, and those things help us to express and strengthen our groups’ identities. Families, friends, coworkers, and others are all groups brought together by common interests and experiences. The idea of folk is problematic because of its connotations of simplicity and quaintness, so folklorists often replace the term folk group with the more generic term group. In either case, whether we refer to folk groups or use the broader, more expansive term group, the focus on people is clear. Folklore is lived, experienced, created, and shared by people. In the next sections, we look in depth at what folk groups are, and we provide examples of how they form, as well as how folklore can create , reinforce, and express group identity. What is a Folk Group? If anyone had ever asked you, “How did you learn to be a member of your family?” you probably would have laughed and replied, “It doesn’t take any special skills or qualities to be a member of a family!” Yet, being a member of a family or any other folk group, no matter how loosely or informally defined, involves special knowledge of its language, behavior, and rules—spoken or unspoken. These types of communication convey and express the group’s attitudes , beliefs, values, and worldview to other members of the group and often to outsiders. Folklore is learned informally as we grow up in a group or as we are introduced to or invited into a new group. All of us, no matter how educated we become or how urban our lifestyles, express ourselves through folklore every day, and each individual holds membership within more than one folk group. A family, the first folk group in which most of us are active members, has its own folklore, often a subset of or conglomeration of different ethnic, religious, regional, or social group lore. In addition, families may even create—intentionally or unintentionally—their own folklore that is meaningful only to them. Each family has its own system of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, of narratives that illustrate and teach family values, of rituals that celebrate or even satirize its beliefs. There are shared jokes and gestures, and oral or gestural shorthand that only family members understand. There are objects that serve as repositories of family history , and objects used to convey certain family attitudes and beliefs, whether the objects would be perceived by outsiders as clearly connected to those values or not. LIVING FOLKLORE 32 You...