New Sociologies of Literature

Fields, Graphs and Networks: New Sociologies of Literature

Period: October 2013 – February 2014
Location: Amsterdam 
Organization: The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL)
Contact Person: Alex Rutten

• “There are so many intersections and openings, so many parallel projects of research, so many forms of literary study that rely on sociological thought, and so many forms of sociology that confront the literariness of their own objects and procedures, that the real question today is not whether of even why, but how. How can sociology and literature best take advantage – institutionally as well as intellectually – of their polymorphic and often underacknowledged but nonetheless durable partnership?” – James F. English (2010)

The ongoing international dialogue between literary studies and the social sciences has generated renewed attention for the social contexts that surround and shape literature. Researchers have begun to study the social and institutional dimensions of poetry, novels and criticism, the historical dimensions of readership, and the strategic behaviour of actors in so-called ‘fields’ or ‘networks’. They are confronting questions like “How can we understand and study the self-fashioning of an author or critic?”, “How can we map literary networks?”, “How can our knowledge of an author’s social position contribute to an interpretation of his work?”, “Which books were read in a certain period, and why?” In a broader sense, the link between sociology and the study of literature also raises the ever more pressing issue of the relevance of quantifiable and statistical data for academic disciplines such as literary and cultural studies.

This seminar focuses on new applications of sociologically inspired theories and methods within literary studies. It provides an overview of innovative concepts and methods that can be used to study literature as a social phenomenon. Five guest speakers will elaborate on their research and illustrate methods of analyzing problems that feature an intersection of sociology and literature in a qualitative and/or quantitative manner. Each speaker will introduce a distinct approach and discuss various ways in which his/her methods can be applied within the participants’ research projects.

At the end of the seminar, participants will have acquired the means to address specific literary topics from various sociological perspectives. They will also be equipped with a methodological toolbox that can aid them in using sociological analyses in their own research. 

The seminar consists of five Friday afternoon meetings that will be held between November 2013 and March 2014 at the University of Amsterdam.


1 November 2013, 14:00-17:00.
Bungehuis – 0.15, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam.
Introduction and panel discussion with different speakers.

22 November 2013, 14:00-17:00.
Bungehuis – 1.01, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam.
Christophe Verbruggen (Ghent University), Social History and the Analysis of Literary Networks

13 December 2013, 14:00-17:00.
PC Hoofthuis – 3.01, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
James F. English (University of Pennsylvania), New Sociologies of Literature and Quantitative Relationships

24 January 2014, 14:00-17:00.
Bungehuis – 3.37, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam
Els Andringa (Utrecht University), Literary Transfer: An Empirical Approach to Polysystem Theory

23 May 2014, 14:00-17:00.
PC Hoofthuis – 3.01, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
Bernard Lahire (University of Lyon), The Plural Actor: A Sociological Approach to the Life of Writers