Forms of Folklore

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Course Number: 
LeConte 3
Charles L. Briggs
Tu Th 2:00pm - 3:29pm

Anthro 160AC - Forms of Folklore


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.