When writing about a culture, ethnographers can convey important insights about society. However, ethnography can also misrepresent culture. To address this fact, reflexive ethnography attempts to influence both the methodology and the rhetoric of writing about culture. Reflexivity seeks to acknowledge the bias of the researcher. To include the voice of the cultural insiders, and to more closely represent the dynamics of cultures that always have an element of hybridity. However, reflexive ethnographies can also be unwieldy and impractical. Therefore, one must find a pragmatic application of reflexivity.
Reflexivity can have application to Mormon folklore studies. The most important Mormon folklorists in the mid-twentieth century were Austin and Alta Fife and their folklore research includes the ethnography "A Mormon from the Cradle to the Grave," a non-reflexive text that both reveals and conceals aspects of Mormon culture. Analyzing the Fife's world view and the context that surrounded the production of their research helps reveal why their writings describe Mormon culture the way they do. Such a project also assesses their work in a reflexive way as it reveals researcher bias and includes more cultural voices.
William A. (Bert) Wilson took the Fifes' place as the preeminent Mormon folklorist, and his work provides a more complete cultural description. He moves past the Fifes survivalist mode to a functional description on Mormon culture. He also combines an insider perspective with his functionalism. Such a shift focuses more on cultural context and does a better job at representing culture. In these aspects, Wilson's work is a step towards reflexivity.
Reflexivity, however, could play a greater role in the work of Mormon folklorists. Wilson has called for modifications in the study and writing about Mormon folklore. He has argued that much of the past work misrepresents Mormon folklore by ignoring the more common stories in favor or the supernatural. His urging to modify the type of lore that is collected and analyzed will make Mormon folklore more reflexive. The researcher focus will be closer to what the culture itself is like. Reflexivity could also come about by adopting more reflexive methodologies, like those advocated by Elaine Lawless. Finally, Mormon folklorists can also make sure that all voices are heard in the complex subcultures of Mormonism.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Allred, David A., "Representing Culture: Reflexivity and Mormon Folklore Scholarship" (2000). Theses and Dissertations. 4469.