Are we going through a resuscitation of the notion of tradition in the social sciences? The customary practices and the traditional materials that have been the center of the study of folklore and culture have been discovered to be useful by the new social historians, literary theorists, and social philosophers. And, as a by product of this interest, the idea of tradition itself has come in for new praise and scorn by members of these disciplines. Dan Ben-Amos's recent survey of the literature on tradition in folklore studies might be paralleled in most disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, studies demonstrating that the topic is lively, often confused, and sometimes self-contradictory (Ben-Amos 1985). As Raymond Williams notes of "tradition" in Keywords "the word moves again and again towards age-old, and towards ceremony, duty, and respect. Considering only how much has been handed down to us, and how various it actually is, this, in its own way, is both a betrayal and a surrender" (Williams 1983:319).
Roger D. Abrahams was Founding Director of the Center for Folklore and Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.