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Folklore and Science

This section aims to provide a long-term forum for exploring the relationships among folklore and science, whether those domains are conceived as academic fields, worldviews, practices, or discursive framings. Though often approached as polar opposites, the two—like their sister notions tradition and modernity—are mutually constituting. We are invested in overcoming the vexing disconnects that arise from considering disciplines and domains independently. The Folklore and Science Section and its members are committed to initiating and perpetuating dialogue across various disciplines and traditions, including the academic fields of animal behavior, agriculture, ecology, engineering, history and philosophy of science, information science, medicine, physics, political science, psychology, and public policy, as well as other fields concerned with cognition, physiology, technology, and the health of living systems more generally. Placing experimental science and scientific modeling in conversation with insights offered by our disciplinary orientations toward history, philosophy, rhetoric, phenomenology, performance, ethnography, and applied action, we can better investigate how understandings and applications of folklore and science inform, maintain, contest, and complement each other.

Specifically, section members engage in projects that include:

  • Articulating the epistemological differences and similarities between knowledge marked as folk or as scientific
  • Investigating the social relationships constructed by discursive articulations of science, expertise, and tradition, especially as they relate to gender, class, ethnicity, and region—including vernacular adoptions or rejections of these terms and related practices
  • Contributing to work that complicates visions of science as the authoritative word on what can be known, by illuminating the ways that people grant authority to alternate epistemologies and modes of knowledge production
  • Exploring how vernacular/customary perspectives and practices, including activist efforts and citizen science, influence the development and communication of scientific knowledge
  • Examining the experiential realities embedded in verbal expressive forms (e.g., myth, proverb, legend), as well as the ways abstract truths are explored through observation-based metaphor
  • Encouraging transdisciplinary research and the coproduction of knowledge by applying folkloristic theories and methods to scientific problems and by employing scientific theories and methods to understand vernacular culture
  • Engaging in holistic sustainability science research and action research
  • Experimenting with collaborative, multidisciplinary formations (e.g., “Cultural Ecosystem Services,” “Social-Ecological Systems,” “Environmental Humanities,” “Civic Agriculture”) that explore the human and multispecies dimensions of phenomena long studied in the physical and life sciences

In pursuit of these goals, and in the context of broader reexaminations of the relationships among humanities scholarship and the STEM fields, this section proposes to facilitate conversation and cooperative ventures within and beyond the American Folklore Society. We plan to:

  • Co-sponsor panels with other AFS groups (e.g., on belief, narrative, etc.) as our research overlaps
  • Sponsor an interdisciplinary panel at AFS meetings each year that includes colleagues from other fields
  • Encourage participation in interdisciplinary panels at conferences beyond AFS in order to encourage and facilitate the interrelations of academic domains
  • Facilitate interdisciplinary publication, including co-authorship and publication in non-humanities and transdisciplinary journals
  • Generate funds for travel awards, publication subventions, or other projects that will help to achieve the group’s purposes
  • In 2020, the section began sponsoring an annual Folklore & Science Prize ($750, + $250 for travel to the annual meeting in the year the prize is awarded). Deadline is March 20. 

Find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/folklore.science/.

Registered members of the section also have access to our Google Drive folder and Slack channel.


The section sponsors two annual prizes for scholarly papers that explore the intersection of folklore and science. For details, view the CFP in the AFS Review.


The conveners of this section are Brandon Barker and Stephen Lochetto.

Contact the section conveners at [email protected].

Founding members include:

Sandra Bartlett Atwood

Brandon Barker

Lital Belinko

Danille Elise Christensen

Tim Frandy

Bill Hansen

Geneva Harline

Mary Hufford

Andrea Kitta

John Laudun

Lynne McNeill

Jay Mechling

Daniel Povinelli

Clai Rice

Greg Schrempp

Kara Rogers Thomas

Tok Thompson

Jeff Todd Titon

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