Bioethics Blogs

NPRM: Forgotten Folklore

The NPRM proposes “to explicitly exclude oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information or biospecimens is collected.” Not listed is another scholarly discipline that also focuses on specific individuals: folklore. Why?

Folklore projects can closely resemble oral history and journalism. Jeffrey Cooper of the WIRB-Copernicus Group alerts me to the example of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project, which collected “audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009.” These were not oral history interviews, but the effort “to enhance the nation’s historical record and preserve the voices of religious leaders and other orators for researchers and scholars of the future” sounds a lot like many oral history projects, and presumably the sermons and orations will be credited to the speakers, much like oral history interviews.

Moreover, folklorists recognize that IRB regulations fit them poorly for the same reason they fail historians. In its comments on the 2011 ANPRM, the American Folklore Society explained,

Folklorists have historically studied marginalized or disempowered populations: minorities, women, workers, and rural people. Over our century and a half of disciplinary existence, we have learned to stop treating people as generic members of a social category or as passive “tradition‐bearers.” Individuals typically want credit for their knowledge, experience, and creativity. It would be absurd to strip individual identifiers from a study of Plácido Domingo’s vocal technique or an intellectual history of the counterinsurgency strategy in the Iraq war.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.