A provocative theoretical synthesis by renowned folklorist and anthropologist Charles L. Briggs, Unlearning: Rethinking Poetics, Pandemics, and the Politics of Knowledge (Utah State UP, 2021) questions intellectual foundations and charts new paths forward. Briggs argues, through an expansive look back at his own influential works as well as critical readings of the field, that scholars can disrupt existing social and discourse theories across disciplines when they collaborate with theorists whose insights are not constrained by the bounds of scholarship.
Eschewing narrow Eurocentric modes of explanation and research foci, Briggs brings together colonialism, health, media, and psychoanalysis to rethink classic work on poetics and performance that revolutionized linguistic anthropology, folkloristics, media studies, communication, and other fields. Beginning with a candid memoir that credits the mentors whose disconcerting insights prompted him to upend existing scholarly approaches, Briggs combines his childhood experiences in New Mexico with his work in graduate school, his ethnography in Venezuela working with Indigenous peoples, and his contemporary work—which is heavily weighted in medical folklore.
Unlearning offers students, emerging scholars, and veteran researchers alike a guide for turning ethnographic objects into provocations for transforming time-worn theories and objects of analysis into sources of scholarly creativity, deep personal engagement, and efforts to confront unconscionable racial inequities. It will be of significant interest to folklorists, anthropologists, and social theorists and will stimulate conversations across these disciplines.
Dr. Charles Briggs is co-director of the Medical Anthropology Program, co-director of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and the Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor of Folklore in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of numerous books, including Learning How to Ask, Voices of Modernity, Stories in the Time of Cholera, Making Health Public, and Tell Me Why My Children Died. He has received such honors as the James Mooney Award, the Chicago Folklore Prize, the Edward Sapir Book Prize, the J. I. Staley Prize, the Américo Paredes Prize, the New Millennium Book Award, and the Cultural Horizons Prize.