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AFS Review: News

Peace, War, Folklore: Theme Statement for the AFS 2011 Annual Meeting

Monday, November 1, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Michael Dylan Foster

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.

Protest marches, anti-war music, spontaneous shrines and candlelight vigils all perform, in traditional and creative ways, a desire to transform war into peace.

But 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 compromise?

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.

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