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AFS Review: Notes

An International Presence and International Themes at the 2013 Annual Meeting

Monday, October 7, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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by Dorothy Noyes (The Ohio State University)

This year the Acting Committee on International Issues has organized a new event for Wednesday afternoon: a world café to discuss the diverse foci of folklore scholarship around the world with our international stipend winners. This is a good opportunity to hear news from other places and see ourselves in a comparative framework, among other things. No need to come with international expertise!

Attendees from outside North America will notice a lot of what might be called unmarked internationalism at the meeting. Despite the Society's name, it has had an active, though small, international membership since at least the 1960s. This reflected the interpersonal networks that emerged through the international training and migrations of folklore scholars and were sustained by the needs of comparative research. The thickest early relationships were with the UK and Ireland, the Nordic countries, the German-speaking lands, Hungary, and Israel. Today the body of the membership, particularly the student membership, reflects more multifaceted international engagements. Many panels reflect both that older comparativism and an emergent, incidental comparativism based not on presumed genetic or historical relationships but on common predicaments.

A broader and deeper relationship is concealed by the ambiguous referent of "American" in the Society's name. Canadian scholars and programs are ubiquitous and essential in the Society's activities alongside those from the US, with many panels focused specifically on Canadian regions (e.g. 6-08, 9-09) and theorists (3-05). Equally, border and diaspora scholars have long been the motor of theoretical innovation in American folkloristics. The historical overlaps and ongoing cross-migrations between the US, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America remain diagnostic for our thinking about the field. The forum "Advances in Folklore Scholarship" (11-12) explores two recent contributions to these discussions; see also 4-02 and 6-07. Finally, the culturally marked encounters of diverse groups inside North America are always an important focus of both panels (2-08, 3-09, 5-10, 8-01) and local programming (the Artists Marketplace, the "Sabor Latino" tour), and although these are heavily influenced by domestic cultural politics, they also involve important diasporic engagements.

Much of the conspicuous international activity at the meeting consists of regionally based panels organized by AFS sections. These sections reflect the deep historical networks of Anglo-American folklorists, but they have also reconfigured themselves with both geopolitical and disciplinary shifts. Conspicuously active this year is the Nordic-Baltic section, with four panels (1-14, 2-14, 3-09, 8-09): this group has benefited not only from longstanding Scandinavian diasporic connections within the US but from the intense reinvigoration of Baltic scholarly networks in the post-Soviet period (hence the new name of the former Nordic Section). The Eastern Asia Folklife Section has been one of the most active in recent years, for both obvious and non-obvious reasons. The formal cooperations of AFS with the China Folklore Society have also been energized by a large volume of student exchange (3-08, 5-12, 9-02, 10-02). Individual initiatives have greatly strengthened AFS interactions with Japanese scholars and students in recent years (1-06). A broader range of countries is reflected in a comparative panel on colonialism (1-08). The Mediterranean Section also renamed itself in the last decade, as a strong cohort of young Turkish scholars joined members of the old Italian and Italian-American Section along with colleagues from around the region (11-09). As always, the Mediterranean Section considers the sensory as well as the intellectual wants of the folklorist and is offering the membership an olive oil tasting and a dance party on Friday.

Some international conversations are emerging from sections not constituted around a region. This year, two panels sponsored by the Folklore and Education Section consider transnational pedagogic collaborations (1-05, 4-09). Speaking as a former chair of the International Committee, I am happy to see the number of international conversations emerging around the "common predicaments" I mentioned above. This year's theme of cultural sustainability brings these to the forefront. The field is still exploring the implementation of UNESCO's Convention on the Intangible Cultural Heritage: this and other intergovernmental initiatives to protect or develop local traditions have been a dominant theme in our conversations in the last decade and more. This year two panels focus on China (9-02, 10-02); and, for the first time, we explore an intensive case study from Malawi (4-08). Foodways, always a prominent topic, take special visibility with this year's theme, with one panel exploring Nordic innovation in this realm (10-12). The important international conversation on survivor-led disaster recovery that began with the Gulf Coast hurricanes and the Fukushima tsunami continues this year with mostly US-based case studies (4-06, 5-06, 10-14). This conversation intersects with one on the aftermaths of war, notably for military veterans (6-14 and 9-06). Other panels explore broader intersecting frameworks of sustainability: labor, environment, tourism, cultural activism, local knowledge (e.g. , 5-02, 8-03, 8-06), and Diane Goldstein's Presidential Address highlights this last as a critical new form of the long-standing public fascination with our subject matter. Indeed, the three plenary addresses of the meeting point to three vital conversations for our field, which we must learn to sustain across national borders: our rootedness in particular ecologies, our complicity with consumerism, and our challenges in communicating across modes of knowledge. I look forward to seeing what emerges.

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