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Folklore is a cultural and social science that deals primarily with the past and present of phenomena in everyday and popular human culture . At German-speaking universities, the subject is also listed as European Ethnology , Comparative Cultural Studies , Empirical Cultural Studies , Popular Cultures or Cultural Anthropology , whereby the renaming also meant a process of reorientation away from traditional folklore. The focus is on the European milieu, with processes such as globalization or transnationalization making it necessary to look beyond the borders of Europe. This results in overlaps with the world-wide research subjects, for example ethnology (ethnology) and social anthropology .

Subject area

Folklore examines the cultural phenomena of material culture (such as tools , customs , folk songs ) and people's subjective attitudes towards them. The fields of work of the so-called traditional canon (such as custom , folk song, saga , house research ) with their focus on rural population groups have long been the focus of folklore research. Since its reorientation in the 1960s and 1970s, folklore has been understood as a cultural science that understands culture in a broad and dynamic sense as the entire life context of a specific (social, religious or ethnic) society or social group. Due to the variety of sources ( empirical methods, image analysis, object analysis, written sources), the spatial, social and historical context can always be taken into account.

Due to the abundance of cultural phenomena, there is a large number of folkloric fields of work: worker , image , custom research, narrative , family , community and urban (partial) research, equipment, gender (or women research ), interethnic research, clothing (originally costume research ), readers and reading material research, song and music research, media -, Medialkultur-, nutrition research , travel and tourism research, people Frömmigkeits - and popular drama research . Other focal points include a. Bodylore , intercultural communication , legal folklore , living and business as well as museology and material culture research .

Museums are still one of the most important folklore fields of work. In some types of museums , the research results are either presented as focal points u. a. in folklore museums , open-air museums , local museums , farm museums or form an important part, for example, in many regional , state and national museums .

Mostly based on problems of the present, but without being limited to such, she addresses cultural contacts, developments or currents and proceeds both empirically and hermeneutically . Dealing with questions of accelerated knowledge transfer, social mobility, multiculturalism and cultural transfer as well as migration, integration and exclusion are some examples of modern research topics.

Important related disciplines of folklore are in the subject area literature , art and musicology ; regarding the perspective of cultural , everyday , social and economic history , geography , cultural sociology and social psychology ; with regard to the research goal of ethnology, cultural anthropology and, in some cases, political science . Legal folklore is located at the intersection with legal history .


A method-pluralistic approach goes hand in hand with the variety of research fields. This includes archival source research and the analysis of material culture as well as image research , photo and film analysis , as well as discourse and media analysis . As a science with primarily an empirical approach, it also uses qualitative methods, such as field research and participant observation, as well as scientific interviews, such as the narrative interview or oral history .

Subject history

Beginnings in the modern age

When the Germania of Tacitus was rediscovered by scholars at the time of humanism in Germany , people began to be interested in the living conditions of the “common people” by comparing the content of their work with the present. Like many other humanities subjects, folklore arose from the Enlightenment and Romanticism that were decisive at the beginning of modernity . In the context of the Enlightenment was built around 1750, the Kameralistik , statistics and states customer . She saw her task in a comprehensive description of the country, which should provide the absolutist ruler with detailed knowledge about his country and population in terms of the best possible governability and optimization of economic efficiency. In the area of ​​statistics, the term folklore and ethnology appeared for the first time around 1780 - the earliest verifiable mention of the term comes from the Hamburg journal The Traveler from 1782 - both terms were initially used as synonyms. Romanticism had a lasting impact, the search for the natural, the authentic and the national called for an intensive examination of one's own history and past. The early interest in mythology , poetry , fairy tales , sagas or folk songs , for example, is based on this , with Johann Gottfried Herder providing theoretical foundations and concepts. Important representatives of this phase are, for example, Achim von Arnim , Clemens Brentano and the Brothers Grimm .

Understood in this way, folklore is both a product and a symptom of modernity: the social and cultural changes accelerated by industrialization and often perceived as a threat led to an occupation with apparently stable elements in culture that were believed to be found mainly in rural areas .

Folklore in the 19th century

From the middle of the 19th century the subject began to institutionalize: In 1852 Hans von und zu Aufseß founded the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg for collections of cultural history from the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Six years later (1858) Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl began to promote a discipline with his programmatic lecture “Folklore as Science”. Although his involvement in the formation of a specialist discipline remained fragmentary and he remains a controversial figure in specialist history to this day, branches of folklore issues in the 19th and early 20th centuries were based on his program. Volk sees this as an organological unit that needs to be researched systematically. With the people as a natural concept, folklore turned more and more from an enlightened to a romantic science that looked for a popular way of life that never existed. This can be seen as the first tendency towards Nazism , although there are also continuities and breaks in this historical view.

A good three decades later (1889) Rudolf Virchow founded the (later) Museum for German Folklore in Berlin , which is now called the Museum of European Cultures ; the following year (1890) Karl Weinhold founded the first folklore association, also in Berlin, which from 1891 onwards published the magazine for folklore . Further associations and museums were founded in Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland. In 1919, folklore finally became a university subject. Otto Lauffer received the first professor of folklore in the German Reich at the University of Hamburg , but the first (then unpaid) professor of folklore in the German-speaking area was Viktor von Geramb at the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz in 1931 .

Folklore in the 20th century

Folklore until the 1930s

Fundamental questions - for example, how to define people or how popular cultural assets came into being - were first discussed in Basel in 1900 by Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer , John Meier and others. In the early 1920s, Hans Naumann formulated his theory, based on this, of sunken cultural assets and primitive common goods . Like Hoffmann-Krayer, Naumann advocated a two-tier theory - unlike the latter, however, he believed that essential manifestations of cultural life are always created by upper social classes and merely adopted by lower social classes .

In the field of narrative research, the Finnish School set the tone for the first half of the century. The cultural space research has established itself in large parts of the German-speaking countries from 1926 from the Rhineland. At the end of the 1920s, the Schwietering School enriched folklore with its sociological-functionalist approach. From 1936 onwards , Adolf Spamer conveyed a more psychological approach in Berlin.

A well-known folklorist was Joseph Klapper (1880-1967), born in Habelschwerdt ( Bystrzyca Kłodzka ). He devoted his attention to Silesia. In 1925 his book Schlesische Volkskunde was published , reprinted in 1952 by Brentanoverlag in Stuttgart.

Folklore in the time of National Socialism

In the time of National Socialism , a racist and popular educational folklore that completely lost its claim to scientific quality became the dominant teaching. Older ideas of a permanent national and tribal character rooted in race and habitat, as represented by Martin voters among others , accommodated this instrumentalization. After the end of the Second World War, there was a demand, especially from the sociological side, that the subject should be deprived of its independence.

National Socialism had fundamentally pushed the institutionalization of the subject forward. In 1933 there was only a full and an extraordinary professorship for folklore in Hamburg and Dresden. Up until 1945 almost all universities in Germany had professorships in folklore. The institutionalization during the Second World War thus represented a basis for the continued existence of the subject after 1945.

Folklore in the post-war period and repositioned in the 1960s / 70s

Richard Weiss ' Folklore of Switzerland brought new hope with it as early as 1946 , due to his psychological-functional perspective (which was extremely exemplary for the time). In the Federal Republic of Germany and also in Austria, it was difficult in the following period to critically reflect on the instrumentalisation of their own subject by the National Socialists. Not least because of this, it seemed more important to individual institutes to redefine or supplement the subject area of ​​folklore. In his work, Volkskultur in der Technische Welt, published in 1961 , Hermann Bausinger questioned the subject's self-image as research into, above all, peasant traditions and cultural content. In particular, the term “folk culture” should be questioned, as it postulates an apparently unchangeable, original culture. Following Bausinger's criticism, new research approaches and focal points developed, which above all brought the area of ​​contemporary everyday culture into focus. Konrad Köstlin criticized, however, that this "modern folklore" had in many cases only brought an idealizing representation of the working class (as the bearer of folk culture), while on the other hand the "old" folklorists were accused of having idealized peasant culture - the isolated approach, so Köstlin, but is the same in both cases.

In 1970, the working conference of the German Society for Folklore (DGV) took place in Falkenstein ( Falkensteiner Conference ), where theories, self-image, specialist history and basic folklore concepts that have so far been relevant, such as people, tribe, community, tradition, continuity and custom were discussed discussed, with the result of a repositioning and a paradigm shift : They rejected the understanding of “folk culture” at the time and instead wanted to do more contemporary research and devote themselves to socio-cultural problems. In addition, two positions were formed regarding the scientific use of the term “culture”. The representatives of the former Institute for Folklore in Tübingen , which at that time had already been renamed the Institute for Empirical Cultural Studies , advocated sociology as the new leading discipline . The representatives of the institute in Frankfurt am Main, on the other hand, emphasized the similarity of content between folklore and ethnological disciplines such as ethnology (ethnology) and Anglo-Saxon cultural anthropology . The majority joined the first group, within which culture is now primarily understood as a regulatory model for everyday life . This discussion has manifested itself in the (incidentally still ongoing) debate about how the subject should be renamed in order to send out a signal of self-imposed reorientation. As a result, institutes were renamed: Berlin, Freiburg, Marburg and Vienna chose European Ethnology, Frankfurt am Main for Cultural Anthropology, Göttingen for Cultural Anthropology / European Ethnology, Tübingen for Empirical Cultural Studies, Regensburg for Comparative Cultural Studies . Elsewhere it was left with the old name or a double name was chosen, for example folklore / European ethnology in Munich and Münster, folklore / cultural history in Jena, European ethnology / folklore in Innsbruck, Würzburg and Kiel, cultural anthropology / folklore in Mainz as well as folklore and cultural anthropology In Graz. There are currently 28 university institutes in the German-speaking area (as of 2005). The German Society for Folklore (DGV), which was founded in Marburg in 1963 for the purpose of folklore research, claims to continue the work of the Association of Folklore Associations (founded in 1904).

Current situation

At German-speaking universities, folklore is listed as an independent subject under the names of European ethnology , cultural anthropology or empirical cultural studies, which is why folklore is also named with the term "multiple subject" coined by Gottfried Korff. There are currently a total of 37 chairs for folklore at 21 German universities. Folklore is thus one of the so-called small subjects (see also the list of small subjects ).

Folklore examines the other in one's own (German or European) culture. A folklore approach emphasizes phenomena of everyday culture. The focus is on the European area, whereby processes such as globalization or transnationalization have made it necessary to look beyond the borders of Europe and have led to a greater overlap with ethnology. These substantive and methodological approximations, which continue to this day, have led to debates over the past few years about the demarcation lines of the social and cultural science subjects.

Contrary to what the term European Ethnology suggests, the subject is still anchored exclusively in the German-speaking area. The Greek folklorist and philologist Nikolaos Politis (1852-1921) coined the neologism Laography (from the Greek Λαογραφία : folklore ). It corresponds roughly to German folklore as an integration term for cultural research. Folklore is used in the Greek-speaking area a. a. understood as a study of small groups of people in their natural environment (compare ethnography ) and examines manners and customs as defining a place and its culture.

Subject areas

Representatives of the subject are currently dealing with the following topics, which are also represented in commissions of the German Society for Folklore (as of 2017):

See also

Portal: Folklore  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of folklore



Discussions to orient the subject

  • Helge Gerndt : Cultural Studies in the Age of Globalization. Folklore markings. (= Munich contributions to folklore. Volume 31). Waxmann, Münster / New York et al. 2002, ISBN 978-3-8309-1180-7 .
  • Irene Götz , Johannes Moser, Moritz Ege, Burkhart Lauterbach (eds.): European ethnology in Munich. A cultural studies reader. (= Munich contributions to folklore. Volume 42). Waxmann, Münster / New York et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-8309-3199-7 .
  • Johannes Moser, Irene Götz, Moritz Ege (eds.): On the situation of folklore 1945-1970. Orientations of a Science at the Time of the Cold War. (= Munich contributions to folklore. Volume 43). Waxmann, Münster / New York et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-8309-3258-1 .
  • Peter Niedermüller: European Ethnology. Interpretations, options, alternatives. In: Konrad Köstlin , Peter Niedermüller, Herbert Nikitsch (eds.): The turning point as turning point? Orientations of European Ethnologists after 1989 (= publications of the Institute for European Ethnology of the University of Vienna. Volume 23). Vienna 2002, pp. 27–62.
  • Martin Scharfe : Signatures of Culture. Studies on everyday life & exploring it. Jonas, Marburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-89445-459-3 .


  • Atlas of German Folklore .
  • Atlas of Swiss Folklore. (Founded by Paul Geiger and Richard Weiss, continued by Walter Escher, Elsbeth Liebl and Arnold Niederer). Swiss Society for Folklore, Basel 1950–1995, ISBN 978-3-908122-02-9 .

reference books


  • Folklore Studies. Friedrich Schmidt-Ott for his seventieth birthday. (Edited by Fritz Boehm and John Meier ). Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin / Leipzig 1930.



Web links

Wiktionary: Folklore  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Folklore  - Sources and full texts

Appointed by the Federal Employment Agency :

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Kaschuba: Introduction to European Ethnology . 3. Edition. Munich 2006, p. 96 .
  2. ^ Kai Detlev Sievers: Folklore Questions in the. 19th century. In: Rolf Brednich (Hrsg.): Grundriß der Volkskunde. Introduction to the research fields of European ethnology . 3rd revised edition. Reimer, Berlin 2001, p. 31 .
  3. Utz Jeggle: Folklore in the 20th century . In: Rolf Brednich (Hrsg.): Grundriß der Volkskunde. Introduction to the research fields of European ethnology . 3rd expanded edition. Reimer, Berlin 2001, p. 53-75 .
  4. Joseph Klapper: Silesian folklore based on cultural history. Breslau 1925 (= Schlesisches Volkstum. Sources and works of the Silesian Society for Folklore. Volume 1); 2nd edition Brentanoverlag, Stuttgart 1952.
  5. Helge Gerndt (Ed.): Folklore and National Socialism: Lectures and discussions at a conference of the German Society for Folklore Munich, October 23-25, 1986 . Utz, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-926844-06-X , p. ?? .
  6. ^ Hannjost Lixfeld : Institutionalization and instrumentalization of German folklore at the beginning of the Third Reich . In: Wolfgang Jacobeit , Hannjost Lixfeld, Olaf Bockhorn (Hrsg.): Völkische Wissenschaft: Forms and tendencies of German and Austrian folklore in the first half of the 20th century . Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 1994, p. 139-141 .
  7. Karl-S. Kramer: folk culture. A contribution to the discussion of the term and its content. In: Dieter Harmening, Erich Wimmer (ed.): Folk culture - history - region. Festschrift for Wolfgang Brückner on his 60th birthday. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1992, ISBN 3-88479-709-3 , pp. 13-29, here: pp. 14 f.
  8. Johannes Moser, Irene Götz, Moritz Ege (eds.): On the situation of folklore 1945-1970. Orientations of a science at the time of the Cold War (=  Munich contributions to folklore . Volume 43 ). Waxmann, New York / Münster / Berlin 2015.
  9. Gottfried Korff: Grundzüge der Volkskunde . Ed .: Hermann Bausinger, Utz Jeggle, Gottfried Korff, Martin Scharfe. 4th, revised and expanded edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1999, ISBN 3-534-14230-6 .
  10. Small subjects: European ethnology / folklore on the Kleine Fächer portal. In: Retrieved October 27, 2019 .
  11. Compare cultural studies technology research: Folklore vs. Ethnology? ( Memento from September 16, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), Institute for Ethnology at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich .
  12. Review of Geōrgios Ch. K: Eλληνική Λαογραφική Εταιρεία. Ι ιστορική διαδρομή της (1908–2008), Athēna: Hellēnikē Laographikē Hetaireia, 2009. (German: “The Greek Folklore Society: Your historical career 1908–2008.”) In: Südost-Forschungen. Volume 68, 2009, pp. 743–745, here p. 743 (German; PDF: 1.7 MB, 4 pages on ).
  13. ^ German Society for Folklore : Commissions. In: Retrieved October 27, 2019 .