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International Workshop, July 9-11

Venue: Institute of European Ethnology, Mohrenstraße 41, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Doing Social Anthropology with Folklore

Although folklore studies may share certain subject matters—customs, traditions and social institutions—with social/cultural anthropology, the two fields do not necessarily share the same social-scientific orientation. Even in the discipline’s earliest phase of development, folklore studies was dominated by its affiliation with the humanities. In this sense, Volkskunde in Germany and minsuxue 民俗学 in China share similar experiences and encounters.

“Volkskunde sei eine Sozialwissenschaft” (Let folklore be a social science) was a slogan circulated among the folklore students and researchers of Tübingen at the beginning of the 1960s. With such a re-orientation in place, German Volkskunde successfully adjusted itself to be able to respond to rapid social changes in examining everyday life. In contemporary China, folklore studies’ similar shift in orientation seems to have been indispensable in understanding the cultural re-arrangements that result from a confrontation with dramatic societal transformations.  
This workshop offers a forum for intensive communication between German- and Chinese-language scholarship of folklore studies and social anthropology.  The majority of thirteen papers presented, covering the fields of folk religion, kinship, coping with new technologies and ethnic identity, are based on empirical case studies of China. Meanwhile, German-speaking scholars will offer their comments on these papers from the perspectives of methodology and research design.
The focus questions this workshop raises are:

  1. How do folklorists incorporate methodological concerns to make their own academic development compatible with the new social-scientific orientation?
  2. What advantages and restrictions do the abundant historical written documents and oral literature of China have for the social anthropological analysis of contemporary society?
  3. Which areas/themes emerge as promising from a successful integration of folklore and social anthropology?
  4. If we are somehow able to offer clear responses to Questions 2 and 3, then we are approaching a new paradigm of studying Han-Chinese society. How can we help bridge the gap between social-anthropological literature and Chinese area studies? How can we characterize the position of social-anthropological studies of China on the international stage of general social anthropology?

Nine leading figures of German-speaking scholarship of folklore studies and social anthropology are invited to comment the working papers and to join discussions; among them, Professor Hermann Bausinger will highlight the intellectual sources of Tübingen in his keynote speech.
Anyone who is willing to contribute to the discussions is welcome to attend. The language used will be primarily English, which may be supplemented by German and Chinese as needed.

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