In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Folk Culture and Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of Folk Culture Research
  • Theory and Folk Culture
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Landscape, Region, and Vernacular Culture
  • Landscape, Place, and Practice
  • Regions and Cultural Hearths
  • Folk Ethnographies of Place and Community
  • Orality and Performance
  • Performance and Emergent Tradition
  • Music and the Folk Collectors
  • World Music and Vernacular Music Making
  • Environment, Development, and Folk Knowledge
  • Environment, Habit, and Cosmology
  • Politics of Tradition
  • Folk Culture as Political Practice
  • Heritage Culture and Folk Museums

Geography Folk Culture and Geography
George Revill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0092


Conventionally, folk culture refers to the products and practices of relatively homogeneous and isolated small-scale social groups living in rural locations. Thus, folk culture is often associated with tradition, historical continuity, sense of place, and belonging. It is manifest in song and dance, storytelling and mythology, vernacular design in buildings, everyday artifacts and clothing, diet, habits, social rules and structures, work practices such as farming and craft production, religion, and worldviews. Researchers and collectors from the later 19th and first half of the 20th centuries formulated a notion of “the folk” as relatively untouched by the modern world and of folk culture as precious survivals and relicts from bygone cultures transmitted orally down through the generations. However, more-recent work recognizes the place of folk culture in the modern world as heterogeneous and emergent practice. This later perspective was first articulated in the 1950s but has become increasingly dominant and elaborately articulated through the end of the 20th and into the 21st centuries, informed by the influences of post-structural and cultural and performative approaches to theorizing within historical and geographical studies. From this perspective, folk culture is evident in a multiplicity of local cultural reworkings, as individuals and social groups creatively make sense of the circumstances in which they live. Thought in this way as emergent and freely adaptable vernacular culture, folk culture can be urban or rural and can combine cultural elements from different places, from traditional and commercial and from past and present cultural practices. Conceptions of folk culture not only inform long-standing themes of landscape, region, and place within cultural geography but also speak to more-recent concerns with identity, habit, indigenous knowledge, diaspora, heritage, authenticity, and hybridity.

General Overviews

For geographers, there is no satisfactory single overview available. Broader views of relevant material may be derived from a variety of sources. Introductions to cultural geography sometimes provide a survey of approaches to folk culture grounded in North American academic concerns with landscape and region; however, it is not possible to recommend any specific single volume. Reprinted classic texts and collections drawing excerpts from classic texts such as Dundes 1999 and Oring 1986 provide a historical overview of research into folk culture and folklore. Some of this material, such as the work in Dundes 1999, provides a basic scholarly repository of folk culture, while Frazer 1993 and Forde 1934, for example, have interest from a mainly historiographical perspective. This work sheds light on past ways of understanding and interpreting folk culture and its academic grounding in anthropology, geography, and elsewhere. A small number of companions and encyclopedias such as McCormick and White 2011 document and catalogue current assessments of folk culture around the world, classified by nation and region and subdivided by topics such as folk song, medicine, festivals, food, games, religion, and worldview. Lastly, works such as Georges and Jones 1995 and Bendix and Hasan-Rokem 2012 introduce and review the academic study of folklore and folk culture. These studies originate within the discipline of folklore studies informed by the theory and practices of anthropology, ethnography, literary and performance studies, and musicology. They provide a scholarly commentary setting out the scope and methods of folk culture research, and they present a guide to theoretical and empirical debates.

  • Bendix, Regina F., and Galit Hasan-Rokem, eds. A Companion to Folklore. Blackwell Companions to Anthropology 15. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118379936

    An up-to-date international review of the interdisciplinary field of folklore studies. Part 1 covers theoretically informed accounts of key issues in the field. Part 2 provides thirteen regional and national accounts, while Parts 3 and 4 deal with issues concerning the theory and practice of folklore research.

  • Dundes, Alan, ed. International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

    This collects writings by some of the major founding figures of folkloristics, including the Grimm brothers and Sir James Frazer. Each piece in the volume has a very useful introductory essay.

  • Forde, C. Daryll. Habitat, Economy and Society: A Geographical Introduction to Ethnology. London: Methuen, 1934.

    At the intersection of geography and anthropology in the early 20th century, this historically important text details and describes the variety of world folk cultures and lifestyles. Adopting a Boasian perspective, it gathers evidence in defense of cultural pluralism and against environmental determinism.

  • Frazer, James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Wordsworth Reference. Ware, UK: Wordsworth, 1993.

    First published as two volumes in 1890, this represents the first attempt at a systematic, global, cross-cultural comparison of world folklore. As a landmark in 19th-century folklore research, it remains a fascinating read, an important historical statement, and a major intellectual achievement. Republished as recently as 2009 (New York: Cosimo Classics).

  • Georges, Robert A., and Michael Owen Jones. Folkloristics: An Introduction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

    A graduate-level textbook providing an account of the pervasiveness of folklore even in modern everyday life, including literature, film, television, and advertising.

  • McCormick, Charlie T., and Kim Kennedy White, eds. Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. 2d ed. 3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011.

    A key reference work containing over three hundred entries in alphabetic order, covering concepts themes and methodologies in folk culture and folklore research.

  • Oring, Elliott, ed. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1986.

    A well-regarded series of introductory essays from a North American perspective by folklore scholars, introducing topics and interpretative techniques organized by “group” (e.g., ethnicity, occupation, religion, children), and by “genre” (e.g., ballads and folksongs, narratives, proverbs, and objects).

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