Sociology and Literature
Sociology And Literature
Literature reflects society and society shapes literature.
"Nature imitates Art more than Art imitates Nature."
"Literature, though it may also be many other things, is
social evidence and testimony." (Lewis Coser)
Syllabus: - Sociology and Literature, Professor:
Norman Conti, Ph. D.
Course Description: This course is designed to combine important sociological texts with
classic works of literature that complement them. This is accomplished in the hope of
using the commonality to demonstrate how exciting really good sociological research can
be. Moreover, it is a chance to exercise the sociological imagination in a controlled
setting. Ironically, the fiction is employed to help make sociology more real
for the student.
Asylums One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest - Erving Goffman - Ken Kesey
From Badness to Sickness A Clockwork Orange - Conrad & Schnieder - Anthony Burgess
Discipline & Punish 1984 -Michel Foucault -George Orwell
One Dimensional Man Brave New World - Herber Marcuse - Aldous Huxley
Sociology and Literature - Trevor Noble - British Journal of
Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Jun., 1976).
LITERATURE AND SOCIETY - Dept. of Sociology, Emory Univ., Dr. Karen
Some conceptualizations of the relationship between literature and society are rather
straightforward: literature is a reflection of society, a force in society, or simply a
separate part of social life. Others argue that the enterprise of literature is more
complex, potentially capturing diverse forms of interaction between various parts of and
players in society. Thus, the roles of literature in society, and of society in literature
remain open to debate. That literature is best understood only as aesthetic creation
silences the debate yet leaves many questions unanswered. The goal of the course is to
explore the multifaceted relationship between literature and society, examining the
intricacies of the debate and attempting to answer
the questions it inspires.
The course allows the possibility of integrating two ways in which sociologists examine
literature. The dominant approach of the course is that of the Sociology of Literature,
focusing on the production and consumption of literature in society. The course will
demonstrate how social structures and processes govern the relationships among creators,
gatekeepers, both now and in the past. Analysis of works of fiction, representing a
sociology through literature approach, provides a means to exemplify concepts, theories,
and issues raised by the Sociology of Literature. The merging of these two approaches
highlights the integral part literature plays in society.
We begin with an analysis of the question: What is literature? We move from there to a
review of how we study literature sociologically. Each of the three main substantive parts
of the course focuses on literary roles. Proceeding first with creators, we examine what
personal and societal factors influence writers and what they write. Readers, defined
more generally in terms of the audience, constitute the second role of interest. Here we
ask: how do audiences vary? how do readers interpret texts? Jane Austens Pride and
Prejudice will reveal mechanisms of social perception that also apply to reading. The
third role, gatekeepers, consists of two different types of actors: publishers and
critics. We will
discuss the activities and power of publishers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The
industrial setting of Charles Dickenss Hard Times provides a backdrop for our
analyses of changes in literary production. For critics, we will examine the multiple
roles that they play and the scholarly tools they use to interpret works. The course
concludes with re-consideration of general questions about the relationship between
literature and social change at the level of
the text, the activity of interpretation, and dynamics within society. Don DeLillos
White Noise epitomizes the intricate relationship of literature and society in the 20th
In addition to this substantive focus, the course is designed to be writing intensive.
Considering literature as a form of writing facilitates emphasis on the importance of
writing for capturing and communicating the nature and logic of ideas. Brief writing
exercises provide the basis for harvesting ideas and illustrating issues. In addition, to
emphasize the notion that "good writing is re-writing" (and to illustrate the
process novelists themselves often undergo), the term paper assignment involves reviews at
several points during the semester (by the
instructors and/or by peers) as a means of obtaining feedback for revisions. On the
mundane, bureaucratic level, this course fulfills the writing requirement and the advanced
seminar requirement of the general education requirements for Emory College.
1. Participation. The content and organization of the course as well as its actual size
demands the participation of class members. First, attendance is expected. Second,
students should actively engage themselves in the learning process by participating in
discussion. Third, completing in-class writing assignments constitutes a form of
participation. And, fourth, students should be prepared to answer written questions on the
readings during any class session (i.e., there may be pop quizzes).
2. Readings are listed on the course outline. Please complete the reading(s) for a
particular day prior to that class session. Other readings are available online (you need
Adobe Acrobat to read the files). Some may be added as the semester progresses. In
addition, the texts that we will use are available at the bookstore:
Mary Rogers, Novels, Novelists, and Readers
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Charles Dickens, Hard Times
Don DeLillo, White Noise
A. What is literature?
Wellek, Rene and Austin Warren. 1977. Theory of Literature (pp. 20-28, "The nature of
literature"). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 5-20, "The world of
literature"). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
B. What gave rise to the novel? (21 January)
Watt, Ian. 1965. The Rise of the Novel (pp. 35-59). Berkeley: University of California
C. What does Sociology contribute to how we study literature? (23 January)
Albrecht, Milton. 1954. The relationship of literature and society. American
Journal of Sociology 59:425-36.
Templeton, Alice and Stephen B. Groce. 1990. Sociology and literature: Theoretical
considerations. Sociological Inquiry 60:34-46.
Zolberg, Vera. 1990. Constructing a Sociology of the Arts (pp. 1-25, What is Art?
What is the Sociology of Art?). New York: Cambridge University Press.
C. What are empirical ways to study literature sociologically? (28 January)
Griswold, Wendy. 1986. Renaissance Revivals: City Comedy and Revenge Tragedy in the London
Theatre, 1576-1980 (pp.1-13 Introduction). Chicago: University of Chicago
Griswold, Wendy. 1987. A methodological framework for the sociology of
culture. Sociological Methodology 17:1-35.
A. What personal forces propel individuals to write?
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 21-34, "Selfexperiences
and novel making" and pp. 34-50, "Novel making and the world of everyday
life"). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
Coser, Lewis A., Charles Kadushin, and Walter W. Powell. 1982. Books (pp.224-59,
"Authors: A worm's-eye view"). New York: Basic Books.
B. How do societal and cultural factors affect writers?
Griswold, Wendy. 1981. American character and the American novel: An expansion of
reflection theory in the sociology of literature. American Journal of Sociology
Tuchman, Gay and Nina Fortin. 1980. Edging Women Out: Some Suggestions about the
Structure of Opportunities and the Victorian Novel. Signs 6:308-325.
Barker-Nunn, Jeanne and Gary Alan Fine. 1999. The vortex of creation: Literary
politics and the demise of Herman Melvilles reputation. Poetics 26:81-98.
C. How was Jane Austen affected by her 19th C context? (11 February)
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
A. How do reading audiences vary?
Gans, Herbert. 1974. Popular Culture and High Culture (pp. 67-94,
"Comparative analysis of high and popular culture). New York: Basic Books.
(Note: updated version may be substituted)
Woodward, Ian and Michael Emmison. 2002. From aesthetic principles to collective
sentiments: The logics of everyday judgements of taste. Poetics 29:295-316.
Tepper, Steven J. 2000. Fiction reading in America: Explaining the gender gap.
B. What are interpretive communities of readers?
Radway, Janice. 1991. Interpretive Communities and Variable Literacies: The
Functions of Romance Reading. Pp. 465-484 in Rethinking Popular Culture, edited by
Chandra Mukers and Michael Schudson. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 91-106, "Readers'
self-experiences" and pp. 107-128, "Novel making, novel reading, and literary
interaction"). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
(Out of town) (21 February)
C. How do readers interpret texts?
Iser, Wolfgang. 1980. Interaction between text and reader. Pp. 106-19 The
Reader in the Text. edited by S.R. Suleiman and I. Crosman. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1980.
Pollard-Gott, Lucy. 1993. Attribution theory and the novel. Poetics
Miall, David S. and Don Kuiken. 2002. A feeling for fiction: Becoming what we
behold. Poetics 30:221-241.
D. How do social factors affect interpretation patterns?
Press, Andrea. 1994. The sociology of cultural reception: Notes
toward an emerging paradigm. Pp. 221-245 in The Sociology of Culture: Emerging
Theoretical Perspectives, edited by Diana Crane. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Griswold, Wendy. 1987. The fabrication of meaning: Literary interpretation in the
United States, Great Britain, and the West Indies. American Journal of Sociology
EXAM 1 due 27 February
E. How does social perception propel action in Pride and Prejudice?
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.
A. How do publishers, critics, and others affect writers and readers?
Becker, Howard. 1982. Art Worlds (pp. 1-39 Art Worlds and Collective Activity)
Berkeley: University of California Press.
de Glas, Frank. 1992. Authors oeuvres as the backbone of publishers
Studying the literary publishing house after Bourdieu. Poetics 25:379-397.
1. How did a book get published prior to the 20th century?
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 153-163, 169-174,
"The business of literature"). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Benedict, Barbara M. 2001. The eighteenth-century anthology and the construction of
the expert reader. Poetics 28:377-397.
Winship, Michael. 1999. The transatlantic book trade and Anglo-American literary
culture in the nineteenth century. Pp. 98-122 in Reciprocal
Influences: Literary Production, Distribution, and Consumption in America, edited by
Steven Fink and Susan S. Williams. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
2. How did Dickens epitomize 19th C publishing?
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times.
3. How does a book get published in the 20th century?
Coser, Lewis A., Charles Kadushin, and W.W. Powell. 1982. Books (pp.118-47, "To sign
or not to sign"). New York: Basic Books.
de Nooy, W. 1991. Social networks and classifications in literature. Poetics
Rostenberg, leona and Madeleine B. Stern. 2002. From Revolution to Revolution:
perspectives on Publishing and Bookselling 1501-2001
(pp.171-177, Conventional and electronic books: Pluses and minuses.). New
Castle, Deleware: Oak Knoll Press.
4. How does capitalism drive individual action in Hard Times?
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times.
5. What makes a best seller?
Radaway, Janice. 1989. The Book-of-the-Month Club and the general reader: On the
uses of "serious" fiction. Pp. 154-176 in Literature and Social Practice,
edited by P. Desan, P.P Ferguson, and W.
Griswold. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
6. How has the women in print movement emerged over time?
Guest Speaker: Kathy Liddle, Sociology graduate student
Chesnut, Saralyn and Amanda C. Gable. 1997. Women ran it: Charis books and more and
Atlantas lesbian-feminist community, 1971-1981. Pp.
241-284 in Carryin On in the Lesbian and Gay South, edited by John
Howard. New York: New York University Press.
1. What roles do critics play?
Janssen, Susanne. 1997. Reviewing as social practice: Institutional constraints on
critics attention for contemporary fiction. Poetics 24:275-297.
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 163-169, "The business of
literature"). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Janssen, Susanne. 1998. Side-roads to succewss: The effect of sideline activities on
the status of writers. Poetics 25:265-280.
2. What are scholarly frameworks for criticism?
Hall, John. 1979. The Sociology of Literature (pp. 1-23, "Theoretical
traditions"). London: Longman, 1979.
3. Why is DeLillo a critically acclaimed novelist?
DeLillo, Don. White Noise.
A. How do gatekeepers create and maintain the cannon?
Corse, Sarah M. and Monica D. Griffin. 1997. Cultural valorization and African
American literary history: Reconstructing the canon. Sociological Forum 12: 173-203.
Corse, Sarah M. 1995. Nations and novels: Cultural politics and literary use.
Social Forces 73:1279-1308.
B. How does literature influence society? How does social change affect literary form, as
represented in White Noise?
DeLillo, Don. White Noise.
Rogers, Mary F. 1991. Novels, Novelists, and Readers (pp. 129-152, "Literary
socialization"; pp. 175-202, "The art of social worlds and the science of social
worlds"; pp. 203-212, "The fictive"). Albany, New York: State University of
New York Press.
Long, Elizabeth. 1994. Textual interpretation as collective action. Pp.
181-212 in Viewing, Reading, and Listening, edited by J. Cruz and J. Lewis.Boulder, CO:
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