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Folk Talking, Folk Listening: How Alcoholics Anonymous Works

  • Author(s): Michel, Maggi
  • Advisor(s): Jones, Michael O;
  • Yenser, Stephen I
  • et al.

This performance-centered examination of over twenty years of fieldwork in the study of folk narrating practices in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) in Los Angeles emphasizes folk listening as performative and as an important mechanism for change in recovering alcoholics. Analysis of customary performance of the A.A. folk repertoire of slogans and sayings offers a method of interpretation of

these bullet points of recovery and employs that method to answer questions about spirituality and problematic use of the term God. A folkloristic view of the folk listening component of narrating practice examines special narrating forms called speaking and sharing and shows listening skills as essential to empathic connections in this mutual-help group. Neural implications of repetition, imitation, high-emotion story telling, and identity development are explored as functions of mirror cells, hippocampal plasticity, and the role of the

amygdala in memory. Recovery outcomes for individuals who assemble A.A. folklore and folk practices to build connections to others are presented in light of R. Georges and M.O. Jones’ concept of folklore as a personal resource.

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