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The Third Culture? // Literature and Sociology

 One-day Interdisciplinary Conference

14 June 2019

 University of Warwick (Coventry)
Sponsored by ESRC-DTC Warwick and Social Theory Centre (University of Warwick)

 The Third Culture? // Literature and Sociology

 

Keynote speakers:

  • Prof. Mariano Longo (Università del Salento - Italy)
  • Prof. Virinder Kalra (University of Warwick - UK)

Register now (registration is open until 4 June 2019)
 
In 1985 Wolf Lepenies argued that sociology should be considered a ‘third culture’ arising between science and literature. Contemporary discourses and research, however, show us that sociology and literature have a long history of peculiar relatedness.

In 19th century Europe, sociology was considered both a competitor to and counterpart of literary study since consensus held that the two disciplines were best placed to analyse and depict the emerging industrial society. Figures like Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Simmel hoped to merge literature and social science; while others (like Marx, Durkheim and Weber) drew inspiration from literary work in developing their early sociological masterpieces. Despite this history, the developing pan-European structure of knowledge with its prioritisation of empirical analysis prevented any extensive integration between the two fields (Longo 2015; Jacobsen, Drake et al. 2014; Wallerstein 2007).

This conference seeks to renew collaboration between sociology and literature by addressing their disciplinary intersections and coalescences.
From this starting point three inter-related dimensions emerge:

Firstly, that literature may serve as a heuristic tool for sociological analyses, providing, if not a simplistic ‘reflection’ of social reality, then at least a plausible description or anticipation of human actions and social contexts. In this way some fiction can be understood as social theory (as with Balzac, Dickens, Houellebecq and Saramago); while some sociological accounts can be understood as pieces of literature, with a ‘literary imagination’ underpinning many sociological works (as with Denzin and Richardson).

Secondly, in terms of cross-fertilisations, literary study has a long history of mining sociological theories and methodologies for the analysis of literary texts (as with Marxist literary studies and World Literature). More recently this has led to a rich sub-discipline that correlates literary forms and socio-economic processes via the work of Bourdieu and others. Literary theory, for its own part, has had a distinct impact on contemporary sociology, with the work of Said, Spivak and Jameson featuring prominently in sociology’s global or postcolonial turn.

And finally, literary works have historically worked as agents to foster reflection and political action on contemporary social issues (as with the work of Sinclair, Roy and El Saadawi). In this way, the intersection between sociology and literature can be used to focus and reflect on social issues like migration, racism and exploitation, serving activist projects and stimulating interventions into public life.

By reflecting on the productivity of these strands, we aim also to trace the difficulties and erasures which inhere as disciplinary objects are shifted and reconstituted, while bridging disciplinary parochialisms and reframing social and cultural issues beyond the confines of the university.

Delegates to the conference will be expected to fund their own travel and accommodation. Thanks to our sponsors – the ESRC-DTC (University of Warwick) and the Social Theory Centre (University of Warwick) – registration to the conference is free.

More information at: thirdcultureconference@gmail.com

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