Bloomington 2011: Peace, War, Folklore
Many of the verbal, material, and customary arts that folklorists
explore are premised on a sense of continuity and normality: cooking
meals, sharing jokes, building things, telling stories, raising crops,
singing, dancing, festival making. Often these activities are nurtured
within an atmosphere of relative peace and everyday harmony, with the
hope that the things we do today also will have meaning tomorrow.
Yet daily lives can be shattered. We are haunted by conflict—past,
present, and future—not only in national and international politics, but
also within local communities and ordinary worlds. Tales of epic
warriors; games played by refugee children; lucky charms carried into
battle; musical commemorations for the fallen; stories recounted by
grandparents, parents, and children: the experience of war demands
creative responses to violence, fear, pain, grief, and memory. Folkloric
processes can provide familiarity in the face of uncertainty, respite
from terror, resources during moments of loss and despair. At the same
time, folklore is just as often implicated in the very causes of
conflict—the ethnic, religious, and social biases that engender
misunderstandings and hatred, the symbols of one ideology set against
another, the rumors that lead to violence.
anti-war music, spontaneous shrines and candlelight vigils all perform,
in traditional and creative ways, a desire to transform war into peace.
is peace simply the absence of war, and war the absence of peace?
Folklore and vernacular culture can articulate the symbiosis of these
two seemingly opposite states. The organized competition of sporting
events, the raucous whirlwind of the carnival, the simulated violence of
role-playing games: when do expressions of symbolic conflict help
create harmony, and when do they lead to distrust? Are tensions and
small discords within communities sometimes necessary for preserving a
larger peace? And what becomes of the division between the homeland and
the front in an age of Internet connectivity and live video feeds, of
high-tech terrorism and drone warfare?
In 1968, during the thick
of the Vietnam War, student uprisings, and peace protests around the
world, the AFS annual meeting was held in Bloomington, Indiana. Now, in a
new century already racked by new conflicts and ongoing struggles for
peace, AFS returns to Bloomington. If the study of history and politics
is shaped by the language of conflict, what of the study of folklore?
What responsibilities do folklorists have in working with people waging
war or making peace? What is the role of expressive culture in the lives
of veterans and refugees, in the healing of individuals and families,
in the rebuilding of communities? How do diverse groups negotiate
differing worldviews to create stability? What can the study of folklore
contribute to deeper understandings of conflict and concord and
In selecting "Peace, War, Folklore” for this year’s
conference theme, we hope participants will consider these notions
broadly and creatively, focusing as much on life without hostility as on
the incursion of conflict into the everyday. Similarly, we encourage
panels, forums, and other activities that explore the development of
folkloristics as a set of practices influenced by misunderstanding as
well as agreement, by discord as well as cooperation. And this year, we
particularly extend a warm welcome to international participants so we
can engage with folkloristics as a global discipline with a role to play
in issues of peace and war around the world.