Stephen Olbrys Gencarella

Stephen Olbrys
Associate Professor
N356 Integrative Learning Center
Spring 2019 office hours: Mon/Wed 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 two general issues: 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; and the relationship between rhetorical criticism and social theory, especially to critique anti-democratic behavior and to advocate democratic modes of living with others.

Working at these intersections, my research often focuses on the ways that contemporary comedic and horror performances address, uphold, and criticize social and political anxieties. Similarly, I am interested in the complicated role alcohol plays in human culture and history. Occasionally, I investigate myths of rhetoric in classical antiquity in order to include voices and concepts often excluded from the rhetorical tradition. And 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: Humor in Society (General Education SBU); The Folklore of Alcohol; Contemporary Folklore Studies; 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.
  • "Thunder without Rain: Fascist Masculinity in AMC's The Walking Dead." Horror Studies, 7(1), 125-146. 2016.
  • "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, 237-247. 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 currently in preparation of an exhibit on the narrative folklore of the Connecticut River Valley from source to sound. In relation to this research, I am finishing a book manuscript tentatively entitled The Moodus Noises: A Cultural History of a Connecticut Legend.

I did the research and wrote the script for an exhibit at the Museum entitled The Thirsty River: 400 Years of Drink, Life, and Reform in the Connecticut River Valley. The exhibit runs from June to October 2018. I have commenced a blog and radio interview series that builds from this research entitled The Drunken River.

I have written a book for the general public concerning the historical and folkloric eccentrics of New England. It is published by Globe Pequot Press and is now available. It was positively reviewed in Connecticut Magazine. All royalties benefit youth and education programs at the Connecticut River Museum.

I am currently writing a book that will serve both as a hiking guide and an introduction to the folklore of Connecticut, to be published by Globe Pequot in 2019. A percentage of royalties will benefit the Friends of Connecticut State Parks.

I often work with iCRV Radio to produce shows on the folklore of New England.

I am also interested in the intersection of the uncanny and the humorous, and the relationship between theories of the uncanny and catharsis, and intermittently pursue projects related to these issues.