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Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics. The adjective "folkloristic" for an academically oriented study is also distinguished from "folkloric" for material having the character of folklore or tradition. In scholarly usage, folkloristics represents an emphasis on the contemporary social aspects of expressive culture, in contrast to the more literary-historical study of texts.

Scholars specializing in folkloristics are known as folklorists.


Contribution of Alan Dundes

Folklorist Alan Dundes (1934-2005) of the University of California at Berkeley is often credited with promotion of folkloristics as a disciplinary term, with the explanation that methodology should contextualize the material of the "lore" within the sociology of the "folk." In contrast to a definition of folk as peasant or remote peoples, he applied what he called a "modern" flexible social definition for folk as two or more persons who share any trait in common and express their identity through traditions. With this expanded social definition also emerged a wider view of the material of folklore characterized by their repetition and variation to include material, written, and visual practices. Another implication of the term, according to Dundes, is that folkloristic work is interpretative or scientific rather than descriptive or devoted solely to collection.

In 1978, Dundes published a collection of his essays as Essays in Folkloristics and in the preface advocated for "folkloristics" as a preferred term for a discipline devoted to the study of folklore. Four years earlier, Pentti Leino published an historical overview of one of the important centers of comparative folklore studies as Finnish Folkloristics. In other international developments drawing attention to "folkloristics," the University of Helsinki established a professorial chair in folkloristics, the University of Tartu created a department of folkloristics, and the Estonian Literary Museum featured a department of folkloristics. In 1999, Dundes reiterated his case with the publication of International Folkloristics, a compilation of foundational essays in the international study of folklore, and an historical retrospective in "Folkloristics in the Twenty-First Century" in the Journal of American Folklore (2005).

Application to literary and textual study

Efforts have been made by some folklorists to apply folkloristic approaches concerned with context and practice to literary and textual work, so as not to limit folkloristics to ethnographic or sociological perspectives (Examples are Simon Bronner's "Historical Methodology in Folkloristics" in 1982 and Sandra Stahl Dolby's publication of Literary Folkloristics and the Personal Narrative in 1988). Some scholars still prefer "folklore studies" or "folklife research" to indicate the interdisciplinary mix of humanistic and social science approaches, but folkloristics maintains wide currency in academic circles. In 1995, a major introductory textbook was written by American folklorists Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones as Folkloristics: An Introduction. The Journal of Indian Folkloristics and International Folkloristics are serials that have had folkloristics in its masthead since 1978.


  • Ben-Amos, Dan. "On the Final [s] in 'Folkloristics.'" Journal of American Folklore 98 (1985): 334-36.
  • Bronner, Simon J. American Folklore Studies: An Intellectual History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.
  • Bronner, Simon J. Following Tradition: Folklore in the Discourse of American Culture. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1998.
  • Burns, Thomas A. "Folkloristics: A Conception of Theory." Western Folklore 36 (1977): 109-34.
  • Dundes, Alan. "Folkloristics in the Twenty-First Century (AFS Invited Presidential Plenary Address, 2004)."

Journal of American Folklore 118 (2005): 385-408.

  • Hansen, William F. "A Note on the Final [s] in Folkloristics." Journal of American Folklore 100 (1987): 305-7.
  • Jackson, Bruce. "Folkloristics." Journal of American Folklore 98 (1985): 95-101.
  • Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. "Di Folkloristik: A Good Yiddish Word." Journal of American Folklore 98 (1985): 331-34.

See also

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