Macquarie University
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Folktales in an evolutionary context

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posted on 2022-03-28, 14:16 authored by Kathleen Ragan
This thesis builds the foundation of a methodology for the quantitative analysis of the folk narrative system. Just as anthropology uses analyses of different cultures to examine the human past; researchers could use analyses of our oldest form of literature, the folk narrative, to examine aspects of worldwide culture and changes in culture over time. This thesis develops a quantitative methodology based in part on small, grammatically defined units. For this type of analysis to be viable, careful consideration of many aspects of the folk narrative system is required. Chapter One presents the qualities of the folk narrative that make it an apposite choice for investigations of worldwide cultures and cultural changes over time. These qualities include: the fundamental importance and cross-cultural nature of the folk narrative; the reliable development of narrative ability in all humans; the ability of the folk narrative to convey information; and the large number of collected folk narratives as a resource. Chapter Two explores different styles of literary analysis with a focus on structural content analysis and the types of information that have resulted from the use of these different styles. Multiple types of structural analysis by both folklorists and linguists are considered. The grammatical unit chosen for the methodology presented in this paper - nominative case - is a specifically and externally defined, countable unit that is able to operate cross-culturally and that has connection to meaning on a larger scale. Chapter Three is a paper in which nominative case in a random set of tales was counted. This paper operates as a test of the unit and also serves to corroborate the idea that the difference between the predominant gender in tales told by males and females is large enough to impact on a data set which does not control for gender. Chapter Four lays the groundwork for the expansion of the methodology from a random set of tales in a large, academic library to a worldwide representative data set using Murdock's compilation of cultural divisions (Murdock). In addition, the presented methodology is expanded to include the many interactive parts of what is termed the folk narrative system. Certain parts of the folk narrative system which should be considered are outlined but it is noted that there are probably many more parts of the system which can be studied. The expansion of the methodology to an investigation of the folk narrative as a system enables the quantitative analysis to remain connected to the matrix of culture, text, storyteller, environment and other factors. The result of any specific study is seen in the context of other influences that change as the investigated parts change. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the way in which this methodology enables one to access a wide range of information. Chapter Five is a paper that quantifies the asymmetry between male and female storyteller's production of female folk narratives and puts the asymmetry in the context of other folktale and anthropological research. Chapter Six holds a different part of the folk narrative system constant - the storyteller - and analyzes the collector's role in the differential reproduction of female tales. Chapter Seven touches on the remarkable potential the folk narrative has to address fundamental questions about human culture and possibly cultural changes over anthropological time scales. Chapter Three has been published as: "What Happened to the Heroines in Folktales: An Analysis by Gender of a Multi-Cultural Sample of Published Folktales Collected from Storytellers." Marvels and Tales, Vol. 23.2: (2009): 227-47. Chapter Three, "Response to Gottschall" has been published as: "Reply." Marvels and Tales, Vol. 23.2: (2009): 443-448. Chapter Five has been published as: "Asymmetry in Male and Female Storyteller Priorities: An Analysis by Gender of a Sample of Published Folk Narratives Collected from Storytellers Worldwide." Politics and Culture: Online-Only Journal: Special Evolutionary Issue. Ed. Joseph Carroll. 2010. Web. Chapter Six has received a revise and resubmit from Journal of Folklore Research.


Table of Contents

1. The folk narrative as a human fundamental -- 2. Analysis of the folk narrative -- 3. What happened to the heroines in folktales: an analysis by gender of a multi-cultural sample of published folktales collected from storytellers -- 4. The folk narrative as a web of relationships -- 5. Asymmetry in male and female storyteller priorities: an analysis by gender of a sample of published folk narratives collected from storytellers worldwide -- 6. The impact of the collector on gender in a sample of published folk narratives collected from storytellers worldwide -- 7. Future research in the study of the folk narrative.


Typescript. "July 2010" Bibliography: p. 267-284 "A thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD) , Macquarie University, Dept. of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

John Stephens

Additional Supervisor 1

Julie Fitness


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1 online resource (285 p., bound) ill

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mq:72104 1624154 | (AuCNLKIN)000049160119 | (AuNrM)1624154-macqdb-Voyager