Folklore shapes social identities and notions of community. Attributing “traditional” forms to country
people, peasants, the working class, or ethnic others enabled members of dominant social groups to
distance themselves from the premodern world for three centuries. But it turns out that folklore is woven
into the fabric of daily life for everyone.
This course focuses on how all of us construct notions of difference attached to race, ethnicity, gender,
sexuality, class, and nation through folklore. It traces how identities are constructed and performed in a
wide range of genres: jokes, proverbs, riddles, folk speech, folk tales, legends, rumors, myths, and charms
as well as superstitions, festivals, games, folk art, folk music, and vernacular healing. Readings and lectures
incorporate digital folklore, the wide circulation of everything from jokes and rumors to memes through the
Internet and on social media. A broad range of analytic perspectives, including historic-geographic,
psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, and linguistic approaches and those centering on the ethnography of
speaking and performance are used in analyzing genres.
The course explores critical multiculturalism in the United States and beyond, both in terms of content that
deals with African American, Asian American, Latino/a, Native American, and various European
American communities and by thinking about how racial and ethnic borders are produced, patrolled, and
resisted. Each student becomes a contributor to the field of folklore by collecting traditional knowledge
from his or her milieu and placing it in the Berkeley Folklore Archives, where it is used by scholars from
around the world.
There are no prerequisites, and first- and second-year students are welcome. This course satisfies the
American Cultures requirement.