Writing a folklorist’s persona in the field: How defining the object of study defines the scholar

Lisa Svanfeldt-Winter

Abstract


In this article, I approach negotiations of belonging by studying the relationship between folklorists and their informants. I examine how young Finnish folklorists on their first collection journeys in the early 1920s positioned themselves as scholars by stressing both their identification with and their differences from the informants. The discipline's high status as a "national science" required the collectors to approach the locals as carriers of a national heritage shared between the collectors and informants On the other hand, the pursuit of scholarly acknowledgement urged the scholars to emphasize their position as experts who could evaluate the authenticity and academic relevance of the information offered by the locals. One effective way to do so was to highlight a temporal distance between the describer and the described, placing the informants in an earlier time of lower social and cultural development than the scholar. I discuss how the alternation between identification and difference can be interpreted as a means for the scholars to negotiate their places in their academic community and to form feasible scholarly personae within it. The article places special focus on how the young collectors performed this negotiation by describing informants in their correspondences with student friends and cooperating to find shared ways of approaching the informants in acceptable ways according to their discipline.


Keywords


Scholarly persona; History; Nationalism; Ethnography; Folklore collections

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.21153/ps2018vol4no1art692

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