Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Stephen Olbrys
Associate Professor
N356 Integrative Learning Center
Fall 2016 office hours: MW 11:45-1:15
413 545-3685

My research lies at the intersection of folklore studies, rhetorical studies, and performance studies. I am interested in three general issues: (1) The promotion of a critical folklore studies as an activist scholarship to examine and redress social injustice, with particular attention to the constitutive nature of expressive culture; (2) The investigation of myths of rhetoric in classical antiquity, to include voices and concepts often excluded from the rhetorical tradition; (3) The relationship between rhetorical criticism and social theory, especially to critique discourses of violence and anti-democratic behavior and to advocate democratic modes of living with others.

Working at these intersections, I often study the ways that contemporary comedic performances address, uphold, and criticize social and political anxieties. Since 2014, I have been engaged in research on the historical folklore of the Connecticut River Valley, as well as the entire state of Connecticut.

  • Joint Ph.D., Indiana University (Communication and Culture, and Folklore)
  • M.A., Tufts University (Classical Studies)
  • B.A., Providence College (Humanities)
Courses Taught: 

Undergraduate: Contemporary Folklore Studies; Humor in Society (General Education SBU); Critical Folklore Studies; Democracy and Rhetoric; Horror and Public Culture; Humor and Public Culture; Myth, Ritual, and Performance; Rhetoric and Social Theory; Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Good Life

Graduate: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory; Rhetoric and Social Change; Performance and Public Culture; Language as Action and Performance

  • "The Thin Blue Line in a Thick Blue State: A Critical Folklore Study." Co-authored with hari stephen kumar. Forthcoming, Cultural Analysis.
  • "Returning the Favor: Ludic Space, Comedians, and the Rhetorical Constitution of Society." In Standing Up, Speaking Out: Stand-Up Comedy and the Rhetoric of Social Change, edited by Matthew Meier and Casey Schmitt. Forthcoming.
  • "Thunder without Rain: Fascist Masculinity in AMC's The Walking Dead." Horror Studies, 7(1), 125-146. 2016.
  • "Critical Folklore Studies and the Revaluation of Tradition." In Tradition in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Trevor Blank and Robert Glenn Howard, 49-71. 2013.
  • "Folk Criticism and the Art of Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 124(494), 251-271. 2011.
  • "Purifying Rhetoric: Empedocles and the Myth of Rhetorical Theory." Quarterly Journal of Speech, 96(3), 231-256. 2010.
  • "Gramsci, Good Sense, and Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of Folklore Research, 47(3), 221-252. 2010.
  • Readings in Rhetoric and Performance. Strata Publications, Inc., 2010. Co-edited with Phaedra C. Pezzullo. Reviewed in Text and Performance Quarterly and Journal of Folklore Research.
  • "Constituting Folklore: A Case for Critical Folklore Studies." Journal of American Folklore, 122(484), 172-196. 2009.
  • "The Myth of Rhetoric: Korax and the Art of Pollution." Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 37(3), 251-273. 2007.
  • "Touring History: Guidebooks and the Commodification of the Salem Witch Trials." Journal of American Culture, 30(3), 271-284. 2007.
  • "Disciplining the Carnivalesque: Chris Farley's Exotic Dance." Communication and Critical Cultural Studies, 3(3), 239-258. 2006.
  • "Seinfeld's Democratic Vistas." Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22(5), 390-408. 2005.
Current Projects: 

I am the resident folklorist for the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, CT. We are in preparation of an exhibit on the narrative folklore of the Connecticut River Valley from source to sound, to open in 2017 or 2018.

In relation to this research, I am finishing a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Moodus Noises: A Cultural History of a Connecticut Legend.

Current articles in preparation concern other folklore in New England; the intersection of the humorous and the uncanny; and (with Brett Ingram, Boston College) an examination of the relationship between theories of cruelty and catharsis.