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2020 Virtual Annual Meeting Theme

Centers/Peripheries: Connecting Beyond the Binaries

In October 2020, the American Folklore Society will convene its first-ever virtual meeting. This new setting will see colleagues forge connections remotely to share and discuss their research, coming together not in a central location, but in a polycentric network of folklorists and their work.

Originally planned as a face-to-face meeting in Tulsa with a theme of “Recentering the Periphery,” this year’s annual meeting changed shape in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent efforts to minimize its impact through social distancing. Such widespread events as the global pandemic and the rallying cries for equity and justice around the globe are inevitably society-altering, and as they force change, so do they remind us of the relationships between humans, our actions, and our ways of being in the world. Though we lament the loss of our full gathering in Tulsa, the disruption of the past year has created an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the centers and peripheries in our world and in our field.

Ideas of “center” and “periphery” have new and urgent resonance in relation to recent events; scientists map hotspots and track virus movement through and between local outbreaks; presumptions of center and periphery frame structural inequities; local governments’ decisions to shut down or reopen the spaces and places under their authority shape social behavior and pathogen pathways. Meanwhile, people continue to engage in collective expressive efforts as they navigate this uncertain space and time, with methods old and new, between everyday constants and novel developments, desires for both connection and disavowal, and fears of both physical proximity and social disintegration. 

Conceptions of “center” and “periphery” appear in a new light in the virtual realm, too, where issues of access and connection remain contested and unstable, despite the promise of a world-wide web. Does it simply relocate the pathways and concentrations of power, or can it also expose false binarisms and create new opportunities to explore the flow of power and the space between? While the technology imposes new barriers of its own, it nevertheless provides the means of connecting us despite schedule and travel constraints. Attendees can join from the hubs of their individual lives, posing the questions and results central to their work to associates who may be physically far away, but who can still be present to share thoughts and give feedback, synchronously or asynchronously.

We invite you to participate in this experiment, and to experience it as an occasion to consider new configurations of social activity and activism and reflect on the dynamics of human communicative networks and their potential for redefining extant notions of center and periphery or creating new ones. While we look forward to a future meeting in which we can all gather in safe physical proximity to one another, we also see this moment as presenting new opportunities for contemplating how we situate symbols and expressions not only within our work but within our field and the larger world, all inextricably connected.

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American Folklore SocietySister Society: SIEF
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