“You’ve gotta have a fiddle in the band”

If you find yourself in San Antonio on Thursday at 8 am, stop by the Folklore Panel of the Pop Culture and American Culture Association conference!

Here’s the abstract for my talk:

“The Obstacle Flight (Motif D672): Thematic Continuity and Cultural Specificity in Indigenous Narratives and Global Folklore”

By tracing a common folklore motif through several North American Indigenous tales and Eurasian tales the discourse surrounding each individual tale provides a revealing glimpse into the general historical practice of collecting, framing, and distributing tales of the subaltern. A pattern of privileged appropriation that involved collecting tales from the peasantry emerged during the development of the folklore industry in nineteenth century Europe. This framework was then applied to Indigenous communities and their tales, but has recently undergone renegotiation as Indigenous individuals and communities reassert their identity by reclaiming their tales in literature, film, politics, and other arts. An understanding of the development of the folklore industry shows how the contemporary concerns of researchers and the researched are an outgrowth of historical trends.

Distinct tales around the world share some common structural elements, such as the “obstacle flight” motif, categorized and defined by Stith Thompson in the 1950s as when “[f]ugitives throw objects behind them which magically become obstacles in pursuer’s path.”  A discussion of “obstacle flight” tales from a range of cultural sources illustrates the development of the field of folktale scholarship and traces the evolution of folklore research from the German tale “The Water Sprite” (1812) to the Sioux tale “The Runaways” (1990).  Interspersed with a brief summary of each tale is an analysis of the historical context in which the tale was collected and documented, which leads to a cumulative explanation of practices and problems in contemporary Indigenous folklore research.

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