Gary Alan Fine


Dr. Gary Alan Fine, a student of Linda Dégh, began his work in the 1970s. His documentation of attested cases of food contamination was an important corrective to the naïve belief that “urban legends” on this topic were fantasy-based and objectively untrue. He built on this work in “The Goliath Effect,” explaining how rumors about lesser-known brands gravitated to market leaders. This and his follow-up essay on “Redemption Rumors” comprised a coherent theory for mercantile legends, providing an adaptable theory of how legends evolve about mass-produced products and how they communicate a range of social meanings. His collection Manufacturing Legends collected these and other important essays on legendry and became a key source during the crucial period of the 1990s, during which “contemporary” replaced “urban” as a tag for emergent rumors and legends.

His research then developed in ways that continued to influence legend scholarship. His essay “The Third Force in American Folklore” was a strong argument for integrating sociology and folkloristic theory to the benefit of both fields, and his early discussion of “Welcome to the World of AIDS” was a provocative start analysis of this very important legend complex. He attended the Sheffield Seminars on Contemporary Legend in 1987 (presenting “Among Those Dark Satanic Mills,” a discussion of corporate legends involving Satanism), but eight of his essays had already appeared in the bibliography of sources used by participants in the seminars of 1982-86. He was by then recognized as one of the central core of American scholars whose work helped clarify what a “contemporary” legend was.

Also, Dr. Fine is to be recognized for the work he has done to advance folkloristic work among academics in other disciplines and to encourage folklorists to take advantage of concepts in other fields. His collaborations with Patricia Turner (Whispers on the Color Line) and with myself (The Global Grapevine) were productive collaborations, using concepts from multiple disciplines to discuss politically important bodies of legendry. In so doing, Fine introduced folkloristic research to academic fields that are more firmly established in collegiate institutions, helped advance recognition and prestige of our work. He also deserves credit for organizing the important interdisciplinary conference, “The Social Impact of Rumor and Legend,” under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. This led to another important collection, Rumor Mills, that incorporates the perspectives of many disparate fields on the topic contemporary legend.

Dr. Fine is a Fellow of the American Folklore Society and already holds two lifetime achievement awards from sociological societies.


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