346 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:03 May 2021


Rethinking Poetics, Pandemics, and the Politics of Knowledge

Utah State University Press
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.
‘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
‘Few folklorists have been more influential than Charles Briggs in shaping recent scholarship in the field.’
Journal of Folklore Research
Charles L. Briggs is chair of the Folklore Graduate Program, codirector of the Medical Anthropology Program, codirector of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and the Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor of Folklore in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of numerous books, including Learning How to Ask, Stories in the Time of Cholera, Making Health Public, and Tell Me Why My Children Died. He has received such honors as the James Mooney Award, the Chicago Folklore Prize, the Edward Sapir Book Prize, the J. I. Staley Prize, the Américo Paredes Prize, the New Millennium Book Award, and the Cultural Horizons Prize, as well as prestigious fellowships.
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