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Patricia Sawin
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Patricia Sawin, Associate Professor, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

PhD Folklore, Indiana University; MA Anthropology (concentration Folklore), University of Texas at Austin; BA English, Yale University. Coordinator of the Folklore MA Program at UNC; Director of Graduate Studies, American Studies and Folklore (2008-2017); Book: Listening for a Life: A Dialogic Ethnography of Bessie Eldreth through Her Songs and Stories (2004); Articles include: “‘Every kid is where they’re supposed to be, and it’s a miracle’: Family Formation Stories Among Adoptive Families,” JAF (2017) and “Performance at the Nexus of Gender, Power, and Desire,” JAF (2002); Book chapters include: “Things Walt Disney Didn’t Tell Us (But at Which Rogers and Hammerstein at Least Hinted): the 1965 Made-for-TV Musical of Cinderella (2014). My current research—inspired by my own experience as the white parent of a child of color—focuses on stories families formed through transnational adoption tell about their responses to contemporary anti-immigrant politics. I am also collaborating with Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt to edit a collection of histories of graduate folklore programs in the US and Canada.

Graduate education in the humanities is under threat—from misguided fiscal conservatism in state governments, hostility toward the critical perspectives on culture that we teach, underemployment of many MAs and PhDs, and increasing reliance on exploited non-tenure-track faculty. Folklore programs are particularly vulnerable because we are small or mistakenly regarded as irrelevant to contemporary social concerns. Folklore is, however, well ahead of sister disciplines in recognizing that enthusiastically preparing graduate students for careers in the government, non-profit, and professional sectors as well as in academia promotes disciplinary sustainability and social influence as well as more responsive scholarship and practice. In order to be appreciated as leaders and to share our vision, however, the Society must continue, and extend, initiatives already underway to publicize our insights into contemporary social and political issues, to make research materials and syllabi available digitally, and to advocate for increases in tenured ranks and better contracts for fixed-term faculty and graduate teaching assistants. I am especially dedicated to our Society’s fledgling effort to coordinate a collective reconsideration of what we should be teaching as the core of our discipline. What parts of our legacy do we continue to value most? What forgotten elements might we revive? What approaches help foreground the historical and current innovative work of women, LBGTQ people, and people of color? Where (within and outside folklore) should we turn for analyses of race, gender, class, and culture adequate to the present moment that will foster our ability to contribute to a more just and humane future? How can we institutionalize a robust system of feedback between folklorists on many career paths and those responsible for graduate instruction that makes disciplinary renewal sustainable?

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