Policy legends and folklists: Traditional beliefs in the public sphere

Gary Alan Fine, Barry O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Although folklorists have seldom concentrated on politics, folklore thrives among decision-making elites and the politically aware citizenry. One genre is the "policy legend," a traditional text that describes institutions or social conditions, often in a historical frame, to call for governmental or collective action. Even though policy legends are typically transmitted in written form, they change continually, adapting to their political contexts and the concerns of their communicators and audiences. They frequently take the form of lists, which we call folklists, and survive through autopoiesis, the propensity of a system to repair and maintain its internal elements and boundaries. This article analyzes three policy legends: the list of historical statistics on the prevalence of war, then-and-now lists of the worst school discipline problems, and an alleged, wordy federal regulation on the price of cabbages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-178
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of American Folklore
Issue number488
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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