“All Power to the Periphery”: The Public Folklore Thought of Alan Lomax

“All Power to the Periphery”:  The Public Folklore Thought of Alan Lomax

Robert Baron

Originally published in Journal of Folklore Research 49 (2012): 275-317 and in JSTOR.
Read the full article here.

Alan Lomax developed a global vision for the protection of traditional cultures at a time when threats to cultural difference were accelerating – a problem he ascribed to centralized media and entertainment industries, as well as government policies. His public folklore thought and practice was informed by a cultural critique that viewed folklore as an alternative to the alienation engendered by modern life. Lomax’s view of folklore can be characterized as counterhegemonic, and he saw folklore as resistance effected both by explicit expressions of protest and the existence of folklore itself. Anticipating – and shaping – contemporary public folklore practice, Lomax created a repertoire of strategies for safeguarding traditions. These included appropriating the technologies threatening small-scale cultures in order to maintain and disseminate traditions, proposing government folk culture policies, developing modes of presentation for new audiences, and creating conditions for traditions to be perpetuated locally.

Robert Baron directs the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts and is on the faculty of the Master’s Program in Cultural Sustainability at Goucher College.   He has been a Non-Resident Fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African-American Research at Harvard University and has been awarded grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Asian Cultural Council and Japan Foundation, and a Smithsonian Fellowship in Museum Practice.  His publications include Public Folklore, edited with Nick Spitzer and Creolization as Cultural Creativity, edited with Ana Cara.  Baron received a Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from the University of Chicago.

Originally posted: February 26, 2014