Here is the CFP for the International Conference of Young Folklorists, “Theoretical Frames and Empirical Research,” that will take place in Vilnius, April 15-17, 2012. I’ll still be a visiting Ph.D. student in Tartu, Estonia at that time, and it’s only, hm, an 8-hour bus ride or so, so I’m in!
I’m really excited about the topic, because it’s something I tackle in my dissertation. To that end, I came up with a paper proposal (with an unwieldy but descriptive title, sigh) that I’d like to share:
Where the Empirical Meets the Theoretical: Merging Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to Fairy Tales
Culture is patterned—so numbers and relationships between them matter—but culture is also multilayered, complex, symbolic, and subjectively experienced. Because culture, and especially expressive culture, can both be measured and felt, our research needs to incorporate both. In this paper, I explore how quantitative and qualitative approaches to fairy tales best help illuminate their various meanings. Drawing examples from my doctoral work on gender and the body in classical European fairy tales, I demonstrate how shifting between theoretical and empirical lenses enhances the research process.
The international tale type ATU 516, “Faithful John,” provides an excellent case study for an analysis that utilizes the intersection of empirical and theoretical frames. “Faithful John” is a highly canonical fairy tale with a male protagonist, appearing in classical collections such as Basile and the Grimms as well as ethnographic collections from various Indo-European-speaking regions and beyond. By counting the body nouns and adjectives that appeared in four versions of the tale, I was able to empirically ground an interpretation that was also theoretically informed by feminist theory, masculinity studies, and folkloristics. Additionally, I moved between close and distant readings of the texts, drawing insights from a broad study of men’s bodies in 233 tales, and then applying those findings to the narrower sample of ATU 516 texts discussed in this case study. Ultimately, my goal is to show how folklorists can benefit from combining quantitative and qualitative interpretive methods, fusing the empirical and the theoretical in our research regardless of the topic.