English 761.401  Comp Lit 761.401   
Spring 2010

Wednesdays 3:00-6:00PM
Jim English
Fisher-Bennett Hall 139
Office: FBH 311

Hours: Tues 2:30-3:30; Thurs 1:30-2:30

Looked at one way, the "sociology of literature" is dead. Thirty years ago, the phrase was widely in circulation; handbooks and companions were being published, forums and centers such as the Essex Sociology of Literature Project were flourishing. Today, if you put “sociology of literature” into Amazon’s search engine, you will find a list of used and out of print titles. The Essex Project is long gone, having dropped the term “sociology” from its rubrics in the mid-eighties and formally disbanded a decade later. Literary scholars, especially in the US, are accustomed to regarding the social sciences across a great institutional divide.

But looked at another way, the space of convergence between sociology and literary studies has never been more extensive or productive. Some instances include the history of the book, as developed by Chartier, Darnton, Stallybrass, and others; the sociological critique of aesthetics as revolutionized by Bourdieu, Herrnstein Smith, Guillory, and the New Economic critics; analyses of literary intellectuals and the conditions of academic life (Graff, Readings, Watkins, Collini, Brennan, etc.); the expansion of reception studies (Radway); the impact of systems theory on literary studies and aesthetics (Luhmann); and recent scholarship on culture and governmentality (Hunter, Bennett). Meanwhile, within Sociology departments, the study of literature has acquired new energy and visibility, thanks to the revitalizing impact of Bourdieu (Lahire, Wacquant), the influence of Konstanz school reception aesthetics (Griswold, Long), the “strong program” in cultural sociology at Yale (Alexander, Smith), renewed interest in representations of race, sexuality, and stigma (Ferguson, Tolentino), and the explosive theoretical interventions of Bruno Latour. Finally, we can point to the recent crossover impact of work by Franco Moretti and Pascale Casanova, suggesting as it does that the expanded optic required by comparative, transnational, or global frameworks of analysis demands a new articulation of literary with sociological methods.

Even this long list omits much of what is most exciting in the present state of the sociology/literature “contact zone.” Our seminar will coincide with the preparation of a special issue of New Literary History devoted to new sociologies of literature and featuring work by leading theorists in queer studies, postcolonial studies, digital humanities, race theory, and other fields. In the closing weeks of the semester, we will turn to some of this brand new work with the aim of charting out the viable directions for future research across the two disciplines.

Students will take turns preparing handouts, summaries, and background sheets on our various authors and texts. Major written work for the class will include a short (1000-word) book review, an annotated bibliography, and a research paper of 4000-6000 words. My expectations for these papers are realistic; they do not need to be ready for publication. But no incompletes will be granted.

Unit I: Key Theoretical Terms and Concepts Since the 1980s

Jan 13 Introduction – Advance Reading: Desan, Ferguson, Griswold, “Mirrors, Frames, and Demons: Reflections on the Sociology of Literature” (1988)

Jan 20 Bourdieu: Literary Field and Literary Habitus – Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” (1986); “Flaubert’s Point of View” (1987); Part I from The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (1992)

                Findings:  Amy Paeth, Mollie Eisenberg

Jan 27 After Bourdieu: Critiques and Departures – Judith Butler, “Performativity’s Social Magic” (1999); Tony Bennett “Habitus Clivé” (NLH 2007); Jacques Rancière, "An Aesthetics of Knowledge" (2006)

                Find 1-3 recent books for review

Feb 3 Literature and the Social Today: Rethinking Critique and Causation – Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” (2004); Latour, excerpt from Reassembling the Social (2005); Rita Felski, “Context Stinks: Rethinking Temporality” (2009); Heather Love, “Living is Flat; The Descriptive Turn in Literary Studies” (2010).
                Select your book for review

Unit II: Some Recognized Approaches: Book History, Reception Studies, World Literature, History and Sociology of the Discipline

Feb 10 Book History – John Sutherland, “Publishing History: A Hole at the Centre of Literary Sociology” Critical Inquiry 1987; Chartier, “Laborers and Voyagers: From the Text to the Reader” (1992) (excerpt from Book History Reader); D. F. McKenzie, “Sociology of a Text” (1985) (excerpt from Book History Reader); Leah Price, “From The History of a Book to a ‘History of the Book’” (Representations)

Feb 17 Sociology of Reading I (Readers) Wendy Griswold, “Recent Moves in Sociology of Literature” and excerpt from “Readers, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria” (pp. 26-28, 88-119); Janice Radway, “Writing Reading the Romance” (1991); Griswold et al, “Reading and the Reading Class in the Twenty-First Century” (pdf on hard drive); Liu, “From Reading to Social Computing” (pending permission; 2010)

Feb 24 Sociology of Reading II (Buying and Selling) Institutional Approaches to reception: Radway, “Book of Month Club and the General Reader: On the Uses of Serious Fiction”; Laura J. Miller, “Providing for the Sovereign Consumer: Selecting and Recommending Books” from Reluctant Capitalists (2006)

                    Book Review Presentations I

Mar 3 World Literature I (Franco Moretti): Moretti, “Graphs, Maps, Trees” (3 Parts, 2003-04); “Conjectures on World Literature,” “Markets of the Mind” (2000)

                    Book Review Presentations II


Mar 17 World Literature II (Pascale Casanova): Casanova, “Literature As a World,” Excerpts from World Republic of Letters (2005)
                    Book Reviews Due

Mar 24 The Literary Professoriate I (Sociology of Theory): Michèle Lamont, “How to Become a Dominant French Philosopher: The Case of Jacques Derrida” (Journal of American Sociology 1987); John Guillory, “Literature After Theory: The Lesson of Paul de Man” from Cultural Capital (1992); Tim Brennan, “Intellectual Labor” (SAQ 2009).

Mar 31 The Literary Professoriate II (Sociology of Academic Work): Janice Radway, “Research Universities, Periodical Publication, and the Circulation of Professional Expertise”; Alan Liu, “Unnice Work,” “The Idea of Knowledge Work,” and “Humanities and Arts in the Age of Knowledge Work” from The Laws of Cool (2004) OR “The Future Literary” (2002); Mark McGurl, “The Program Era” (2005)
                     Annotated Bibliographies Due

Unit III. New Articulations

April 7 New Sociological Approaches to Literature and Race: Roderick Ferguson, “The Parvenu Baldwin and the Other Side of Redemption” (1999); Ferguson, “Something Else to Be: Sula, The Moynihan Report, and the Negations of Black Lesbian Feminism,” from Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2004); Cynthia Tolentino, Introduction (“Between Subjects and Objects”) and Chapter One (“Sociological Interests, Racial Reform: Richard Wright’s Intellectual of Color”) in America’s Experts: Race and the Fictions of Sociology (Minnesota 2009).

April 14 [Readings from NLH to be announced]

April 21 [Readings from NLH to be announced]

Essays Due April 30