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2020 Annual Meeting Theme: Recentering the Periphery

AFS20 Recentering the Periphery

On October 14, 2020, the American Folklore Society will reconvene in Tulsa, Oklahoma, located where the South, Midwest, and Great Plains regions meet.

Tulsa, like Oklahoma in general, is often marginalized; often seen as being on the periphery of something else. But Tulsans have always narrated a different history: one in which they are at the center. Tulsa was once home to Black Wall Street, the Oil Capital of the World, and a vibrant thoroughfare of Route 66. Today, Tulsans are proud to see their spectacular new Gathering Place and many cultural treasures nationally celebrated and to organize the Center of the Universe Festival. On a deeper level, the ceremonials of the Creek, Euchee, Shawnee, and Cherokee people that are held in the Tulsa region recenter the universe anew each year, for every living being on the planet. Tulsa is an excellent place for us to rethink centers and peripheries. 

Tulsa—the 45th largest city in the U.S.—is home to a diversity of peoples and varied cultural traditions. Tulsa’s history reaches back thousands of years and hundreds of miles. The Muscogee (Creek) people who refounded Tulsa on the banks of the Arkansas River did so after surviving the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Trail of Tears. Subsequently, peoples of both native and African heritage were joined by wave after wave of newcomers. Today the state is home to 39 Federally recognized Native Nations, in addition to the diverse history of Native and immigrant resettlement. Questions of continuity and change are front and center. 

Re-centering the Periphery calls us to focus on the intersections of what is marginalized and centralized both in our field and in the larger public debates about national identities in 2020. The multiple perspectives, peoples, communities, and histories that make up the story of Oklahoma intersect with and challenge many of the tropes we often use to symbolize the nation.

This geographical backdrop can also serve to reflect on and engage in deeper discussions of what is on the periphery and the margins of our own field. We invite participants to reflect on this moment in our national discourse and disciplinary development. How might folklorists contribute to larger conversations in productive ways? How does our work highlight the interplay between theory and practice, the representation of the marginal as centering symbols, the complications of advocacy and analysis, the cultural and rhetorical mechanics of marginalization, and exploration of counter-narratives that elucidate how marginalized communities have turned the tables on the powerful.

By situating Tulsa and Oklahoma in a wider geographic context, the organizers also invite folklorists to address the dynamics of neighboring regions and old homelands of special relevance to Oklahoma and its communities. Similarly, these processes and transformations are linked outward to global scale. Wherever folklorists live and work, their concerns and engagements can almost certainly be re-centered when we gather in Tulsa.

Of course, in addition to this topic, we encourage participants to explore the full dimensions of their scholarship regardless of topic.

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