Rethinking Regions and Roles
Framework and Goals
At the Devry Intersection folklorists from the mid-Atlantic region will explore the potential of the concepts of "critical regionalism" and "civic professionalism" for clarifying the emerging contexts and roles for public folklore within the Mid-Atlantic region. This exploration will take the form of a discussion with Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor, colleagues from the fields of political science and cultural anthropology respectively, whose work in the Appalachian region has stimulated much discussion there of these concepts and their bearing on work in that region and in analogous regions around the world, such as the Himalayas. Their forthcoming essay in Journal of Appalachian Studies, entitled "Appalachia as a Global Region: Toward Critical Regionalism and Civic Professionalism," serves as a useful starting point for: 1) exploring emerging (and latent) linkages between disjunct spaces within our own region and 2) refining our understanding of the bearing of "global" (or at least "larger than local," as Amy Shuman puts it) forms of restructuration on communities with which we work, and the role of public folklore in vetting various forms of dislocation.
The term "critical regionalism" was coined by architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Lliane Lefaivre, and elaborated by architect Kenneth Frampton, whose "critical local culture of architecture" resists "being totally absorbed by the global imperatives of production and consumption." More recently, cultural theorist Cheryl Herr has identified critical regionalism as a project of locating critique of such global imperatives in aesthetic productions that illuminate the linkages between disjunct locales "twinned" through larger than local processes. The effort to locate critique in aesthetic productions that articulate the encounter of the local with the larger than local is nothing new to public folklore. Folklorists, as Donald Brenneis usefully summarized it, are distinguished by a positioning at the intersection of language, performance, and social life, and by a commitment to the study of local particularities. Yet, as he also argues, folklorists have been reluctant to engage with broader questions and wider audiences. How might the concepts of critical regionalism and civic professionalism help us to frame a dialogue across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries?
The paper by Reid and Taylor moves the concept of critical regionalism into the domains of ethnography and public service, and poses a number of questions which we will discuss in the opening session and roundtables of the DeVry Intersection. The reigning paradigm for public folklore was formed, as folklorist Laurie Sommers argued in an article several years ago, during the New Deal, in the context of the build-up of the nation-state. It was during this period, for example, that an already folkloric profile for the Appalachian region was strengthened through the work of folklorists supported by government agencies - a moment in the ongoing shaping of Appalachia into a subnational region. Reid and Taylor (and many others) argue that we are now in a period of subglobal regionalization. Even though the mid-Atlantic region seems less coherent than "Appalachia" (which Richard Dorson famously called "folklore's natural habitat"), the concept of critical regionalism offers a way of thinking about linkages among places that are being assigned (or volunteering to take up) similar functions in the emerging context of global systems. In this vein, in her recent talks at the University of Pennsylvania, folklorist Dorothy Noyes reviewed some of the available positions and perspectives. Citing an address Bill Clinton delivered in Spain, wherein he distinguished between ways in which groups might engage with the new World order as "Catalan" or "Taliban," Noyes added the third option of "Caliban." What are the options we imagine with our collaborators in the spaces of ethnographic encounter?
In the opening session, Hufford, Reid, and Taylor will discuss points of intersection among public folklore, critical regionalism, and civic professionalism. To engage most productively in the discussions, participants should read the paper by Reid and Taylor, and come prepared to reflect on and debate the bearing of the concepts of critical regionalism and civic professionalism on the world as you know it.
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