Popular Traditions, Strategic Assets

Guy Poitevin


A scientific study of popular oral traditions nowadays faces an increasingly serious challenge, as these traditions become controversial assets to the extent that they are turned into strategic idioms of discourse and practice prompted by aims of cultural hegemony, political control and market gains. From sources of knowledge on mankind, people's traditions become stakes for games of dominance. Against this background, the present paper raises methodological and epistemological questions: On what basis can individuals and communities re-appropriate ancient narratives and popular traditions with legitimacy in a completely different context? How can the pitfalls of communist obscurantism, political manipulation, fanatic empathy, anachronic reading, archaic identification, commercial exploitation, etc. be avoided?
This paper argues that prior to directly addressing epistemological questions, the substantive specificity of the object of study- roughly delineated as "popular traditions"- should be first recognised.

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