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Folklore and the New Social Problems

Like many friends, I am now rushing to prepare courses to be taught in the upcoming fall semester. This year I am teaching a new course in both the fall (=Indigenous Worldviews) and the spring. As fall progresses, I will need to get my act together for the new spring course. Book ordering will, for instance, come quickly. I wanted to describe here my new spring 2012 course and invite suggestions and comments from anyone interested in weighing in.

This new course “Folklore and the New Social Problems” or (in expanded form) “The New Social Problems: Expressive and Communal Responses” builds on work that I have done with graduate students over the past few years and was the focus of my contribution to the recent Teagle Foundation-funded project of the American Folklore Society. As part of the Teagle Foundation’s “Big Questions and the Disciplines” initiative, the AFS project focused on undergraduate curriculum innovations linked under the question “What is the relationship between lay and expert knowledge in a complex society?” This provides one context for the course that I will teach next spring.  Here is the course description.

FOLK F253 Folklore and the Social Sciences (3 cr.) S&H
VT: Folklore & New Social Problems
TOPIC:  The New Social Problems: Expressive & Communal Responses

This course considers human responses–including aesthetic, expressive, customary, and communal responses–to a range of recently emergent and highly contested human social problems. Working together to map uncharted territory, we will draw upon the methods, theories, and empirical findings of the international field of folklore studies while cultivating skills in media literacy and critical thinking.  As a course in folklore studies, we will specifically investigate the relationship of lay and expert knowledge within the fraught, complex, and large-scale phenomena and dilemmas that are its empirical focus. Among these course topics are: globalization and trade policy, financial engineering, the digital divide, intellectual property, the industrial food system, the trade in living human tissues and organs, biodiversity, geoengineering, climate change, cultural and linguistic diversity, farmer’s rights, corporate and media concentration, genetic engineering/synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and bioprospecting/biopiracy. Because these issues transcend the historic disciplines, the course will turn to the insights developed in a range of fields but the intellectual center of gravity will be the enduring concerns of folklore studies, as expressed in such core concepts as art, performance, identity, community, vernacular knowledge, context, expressive life, worldview, and heritage. While they will not be the focus of this course, we will acknowledge the enduring significance–in and beyond folklore studies–of what might be characterized as the old social problems. These would include such issues as slavery, terrorism, disease, colonialism, war, poverty, hunger, corruption, and racism.

Suggestions welcome!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jason, is this a 200 level class for undergrads, that is will your students mainly be sophomores and juniors with or without very much knowledge of the subject?


    August 14, 2011
  2. Yes, probably mostly sophomores and juniors with few students having much background.

    August 14, 2011

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