This on-line and live symposium seeks to honor Roger Abrahams' contribution by
building on it (as he continues to do), synthesizing what folklorists have learned
from the performance turn and from our historical self-critique in order to return
to what is arguably the field's core project, the nature of cultural
In the CFE's first two conferences Roger asked us to consider two extremes of the
transmission process: first, the habits which are acquired as "second nature" and
fade into their surround; next, the copies and covers which self-consciously
replicate earlier performances and are themselves framed off from the stream of
discourse. In this third meeting, we would like to address the question of
transmission more synthetically and programmatically, working towards a group
statement that might articulate the next turn in the discipline and inspire the
next generation of students to carry it forward.
We might think of transmission (we avoid, for the moment, the much-discussed word,
"tradition," in order to make ourselves take a fresh look at the process) as
inviting attention to three sets of issues:
- Translation. Under this rubric we can address the cognitive, the semiotic,
extension the intercultural layers of the problem. What really is carried over from
performance to audience or to new performance; what is the nature of the continuity
enabling recognition, and what kind of common understanding is or is not entailed
in recognition? How do codification and entextualization transform practice, and
can we use such concepts to distinguish modes of cultural transmission?
- Exchange. Here, following Roger's pioneering work on the "expressive
may look at questions of value, reciprocity, the marketplace, forms of capital, and
conceptualizations of ownership and intellectual property.
- Reproduction. Here we consider the sociopolitical implications: how the
reproduction of text, custom, artifact is linked to the reproduction of social
power, social voice, and collective being. Here too, then, are questions of
representation, locality, and contextualization.
Through reconstructing all these processes, we hope to understand the emergence of
voice, the inflection of cultural form with social body. And this
is an alternative framing of the field's core project.
The symposium title Voice/Over (a coinage of our colleague Jay
juxtaposes two definitions of this project, and two agendas which have often
seemed to conflict: a commitment to particulars, and a fascination with the flows
between them. Voice/Over proposes that this is the dialectic on which the field
Folklorists study the nature of social voice, how it contrives to move and be
heard, amplified, reproduced and responded to, while still referring back to an
originating body. We wrestle with the paradox of voice, which seems to convey the
The nature of social voice is most easily identified in contexts where voice is
problematic--the "low", the minority, the interstitial. These milieux are isolated
and particularized by the hegemonic process. By virtue of our field involvements,
our scholarship often follows suit. We need to continue to meet as a group to
remind ourselves of the hegemonic forms through and against which our voices flow,
the common predicaments which engender our fragmentation. And to engage in a
contrapuntal, if not choral, project of shaping new form from voice.
FORMAT AND LOGISTICS
We have arranged a multi-phase event to encourage participation and create multiple
channels for it:
We invite all of you to respond to, build on, and take issue with, the postings on
the Voice/Over Sounding Board. We look forward to hearing from you and to seeing
you in March.
- Participants in the first two symposia were invited to make the initial
posts on this website, opening up topics building on those discussions.
- From now until the dates of the live symposium, all interested parties are
invited to send responses, addenda, riffs on these initial postings and even
outright new utterances to Mary Hufford or Dorothy Noyes: they will be posted too.
We ask only that you address intellectual issues you consider central to the field.
- The graduate students at Penn's Program in Folklore and Folklife will read
all the posts, identify the core concerns or issues arising from them, and shape
these into session topics.
- The live symposium on March 22nd-23rd will consist of conversation around
these topics. In each of six sessions, a student will pose the central issue.
Several colleagues will be invited in advance to offer brief responses and moderate
a general discussion.
- A subsequent edited volume is possible: it depends on how focused a
discussion emerges. We have determined that a Festschrift, particularly one of the
magnitude necessary to encompass all Roger's students, friends, and admirers, is
not viable in the current publishing climate. Rather, we would like all
participants to consider the discussions as common property and to feel free to
draw on them as the basis for further meetings, articles, special issues, or
whatever other genres they are inspired to make use of. Reinvigorated debate in the
field will be the best homage we can pay Roger in gratitude for the ideas he
continues to shower upon us.
Mary Hufford email@example.com
t h e SOUNDING BOARD
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