How and Why Does a Folklorist Study Afghan Politics: Connecting the Dots. . .

-A lecture by Dr. Margaret Mills-

If one approaches the problems of contemporary politics in Afghanistan from the point of view of folklore, some important elements of popular discourse and ideology come into focus: jokes, proverbs, rumors, personal experience narratives, and conspiracy theories express and evaluate people’s daily political experiences. The folklorist’s job is not to debunk or disprove them, but to understand how these types of discourse shape people’s choice of action in a difficult, nearly chaotic living situation.

Margaret Mills first set foot in Afghanistan in Herat in 1969, and on this experience decided to pursue doctoral study at Harvard University in general folklore and Afghan Persian cultural studies. She wrote her dissertation on traditional storytelling in Herat and a second book, Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling (1991), on storytelling as political and social criticism, in the Daud Khan period. She has taught comparative folklore studies and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and presently at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She has done related research in Pakistan’s Northern Areas and mostly recently, in Tajikistan. She returns to Afghanistan as often as possible to pursue social and cultural research.

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