“Charles Briggs, long our guide in learning how to ask, leads us in this brilliant collection toward learning how to unthink—unthink the need for policing disciplinary boundaries, unthink the ideological distinction between sophisticated academic and unreflective folk, unthink the presumption that we scholars are needed to give voice to the voiceless. A profoundly illuminating guide to the energizing potential of opening oneself to disruption and dialogue in research.”
—Richard Bauman, Indiana University, Bloomington
“I know of no other single volume in folklore that offers this particular map of key issues connecting folklore studies to other disciplines. It should be required reading on graduate folklore syllabi and will inspire some healthy controversy, specifically about the impact and inherent politics of the discipline.”
—Margaret Mills, The Ohio State University
“A significant contribution, offering arresting insights on topics that will certainly capture the attention of many folklorists.”
—Erika Brady, Western Kentucky University
“Briggs sets out better ways of doing folkloristics, arguing for them with urgency, compelled by his embodied knowledge—as an ethnographer/medical sociologist/healer in other less well-advertised epidemics—to lay down the challenge to unlearn our disciplinary expectations of ‘knowledge’ and its modes of production. . . . Unlearning is a[n] ultimately brilliant book.”
“Few folklorists have been more influential than Charles Briggs in shaping recent scholarship in the field.”
—Journal of Folklore Research
A provocative theoretical synthesis by renowned folklorist and anthropologist Charles L. Briggs, Unlearning questions intellectual foundations and charts new paths forward. Briggs argues, through an expansive look back at his own influential works as well as critical readings of the field, that scholars can disrupt existing social and discourse theories across disciplines when they collaborate with theorists whose insights are not constrained by the bounds of scholarship.
Eschewing narrow Eurocentric modes of explanation and research foci, Briggs brings together colonialism, health, media, and psychoanalysis to rethink classic work on poetics and performance that revolutionized linguistic anthropology, folkloristics, media studies, communication, and other fields. Beginning with a candid memoir that credits the mentors whose disconcerting insights prompted him to upend existing scholarly approaches, Briggs combines his childhood experiences in New Mexico with his work in graduate school, his ethnography in Venezuela working with Indigenous peoples, and his contemporary work—which is heavily weighted in medical folklore.
Unlearning offers students, emerging scholars, and veteran researchers alike a guide for turning ethnographic objects into provocations for transforming time-worn theories and objects of analysis into sources of scholarly creativity, deep personal engagement, and efforts to confront unconscionable racial inequities. It will be of significant interest to folklorists, anthropologists, and social theorists and will stimulate conversations across these disciplines.