What is it about?

The article focuses on the link between memory, folk narratives, and critical thinking. I suggest in particular that there are instances in which the transmission of a folkloric story, such as a legend or a tale, can intersect with a person’s life experiences and facilitate the articulation of critical perspectives on society that might otherwise go unexpressed. The opportunity for discussing this idea is offered by the work of early twentieth-century Chicago sociologist Jane Addams. In her book, "The Long Road of Woman’s Memory" (1916), Addams dealt with the modern revival of an ancient legend and investigated its interplay with the recollections, grievances, and aspirations of working-class women.

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Why is it important?

The case examined here has a potentially wider significance. I argue that, under certain conditions, folk narratives can serve as genuine epistemic resources. They can help traditionally marginalized social actors to make sense of their own experiences, rework their individual memories, and articulate their position in society.


This article has been a long time in the making, and it's hopefully the beginning of a larger project about the relevance of folklore studies to so-called "social epistemology", a field of philosophy that studies the role of social institutions and social interactions in the production and transmission of knowledge. I argue that the analysis of folk culture has much to contribute to this field of study by illuminating traditionally neglected ways in which communities produce knowledge from below and often under conditions of marginalization

Tullio Viola
Maastricht University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Memory, Folk Narratives, and Social Critique: Notes on Jane Addams and the “Devil Baby” Legend, Journal of the Philosophy of History, July 2023, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/18722636-12341503.
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