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Mary Hufford Public Lecture: The Witness Trees' Revolt: Folklore's Invitation to Narrative Ecology

Lecture Topic:

A distinction between “cultural” and “natural” resources, long cherished in fields engaged with heritage, is on shaky ground. Folklore is not alone in scrambling for footing in a shifting terrain of hybridizing fields and subjects: “vibrant materiality,” “multi-species ethnography,” “social ecology,” and “environmental humanities,” to name a few. I argue that folklore has a particular contribution to make to these reconfigurations, through an approach that I call narrative ecology: the transdisciplinary, multi-sectoral study, critique, and stewardship of places as narrative climax systems. In a narrative climax system, conversational genres are germinal in establishing and renewing membership in communities of land and people.

Informed by theories, methods, and public policies incubated and tested in the trenches of public folklore in the last quarter of the 20th century, narrative ecology engages genres of communication as matrices for world-making within and across sectors and species. Emulating and reproducing perceptual dialogues with botanical and geological others, the speech genres that are folklore’s stock in trade engage our collective susceptibility to what Anna Tsing calls the “world-building proclivities” of the more-than-human. I ask, how do trees, rocks, water, soil, birds, salamanders, fish and coves perform as local subjects in the forest commons of southern West Virginia? At the nexus of creative nature and collaborative speaking, conversational genres are the enabling Bakhtinian heroes.