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Cinderella: An Evolutionary Approach to the study of folktales

MARTINI, GESSICA (2020) Cinderella: An Evolutionary Approach to the study of folktales. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 25 March 2023.


The recent application of evolutionary approaches has brought new perspectives to historical and cross-cultural studies of folktales. In this sense, by using the framework of cultural evolution theories, this study aims to shed light on the evolutionary history of Cinderella, arguably the most famous and widespread folktale in the world, whose origin remains unknown. However, principled and consistent criteria for coding elements of oral narratives are still lacking. As such, this study presents a new set of coding rules which can be applied to any samples of oral narratives. By combining different methodologies, both qualitative (i.e., structural analysis) and quantitative (i.e., cultural transmission theories and phylogenetic analysis), I developed a coding system that is then applied to the data corpus of Cinderella, which counts almost 300 variants from different parts of the world including Europe, Africa, and Asia. Variants of this tale have been categorised by folklorists into five different tale-types (BI, B, AB, A, and C), which are believed to share a common ancestor. To shed light on their origin and mutual relationships, 266 variants were analysed using phylogenetic methods and tools from population genetics. The findings partly confirmed existing folklore theories, while also yielding new insights. Specifically, I found that type BI was formed by two distinct clades (Catskin and Cap o’ Rushes) sharing a common ancestor. As for Type A and C, considered a unique type under the ATU index, they are two different clades sharing a common ancestor. Stories traditionally of Type B did not form a phylogenetic group, even though their motifs have been consistently borrowed, together with those of A, in forming Type AB. In this regard, I showed how hybridization is a main force in forming stories. The presence of cultural reticulation, in terms of motifs borrowing, was investigated by employing network analysis which shows how cultural units are transmitted and blended in packages. Overall, the use of a pluralistic approach, which involves a wide range of interdisciplinary methodologies, broaden our understanding about the evolution of stories.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:25 Mar 2020 16:32

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