Brock University

Sociologies of Literature: Recrafting Boundary Lines Between the Sociological and the Literary

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the sociology of literature occupied a small but visible place within sociology. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, sociologists lamented that the sociology of literature as a field of theory and research barely exists (McHoul, 1988), had become a non-field (Griswold, 1993) and that a boundary line divides literary studies and social science (Ferguson, Desan and Griswold, 1988). Yet, in departments of language and literature, law, history, philosophy, and womens studies, there is a rich inter-weaving of the sociological and the literary. The paucity of attention to literary work within sociology, generally, and Canadian sociology, in particular, is especially striking in a year when Alice Munro, the first Canadian and the 13th female recipient, garnered the Nobel Prize in Literature; she did so for an undervalued genre - the short story - and for content that centers largely on women's lives, which she famously described in Lives of Girls and Women as deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum. This session emerges within this context and an invitation from British sociologist John Law who asks (2004): Why do the books fall into two heaps, the novels on the one hand and the academic volumes on the other? It invites papers that explore multiple connections between sociological theories / methods / research and writing practices / and literature /fiction/ creative non-fiction/ poetry. Creative ideas are welcome and encouraged.

Session Organizer: Andrea Doucet, Brock University,


Lives in Fiction: Auto/biography as Theoretical Narrative

Dennis Erasga, De La Salle University,

Sociological imagination is an open invitation to theorize from the stories we tell about ourselves and others.  More than self-expression, the sociological ethos of auto/biographical narration is to extend the reality of a solipsistic and exclusive existence into a common and public experience. In order to achieve this, the narrator must convert biographies into scribed realities. The narrating process, however, has unique epistemic anchorage (memory-based) and stylistic requirement (literary) that encage lived lives in a fictional genre, giving this mode of writing a unique interpretive lens that projects new visions of the social. Consequently for theorizing purposes, auto/biographies are meaning-claims that should no longer be read exclusively in terms of their dramatic and documentary values, but more in terms of their theoretical affordances. This paper explores the implications and utility of fictionalized auto/biographical narratives in expanding the ambit of sociological theorizing.


Sociology by Other Means: The Promise (and Challenge) of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Fiction

Andrew Paravantes, York University,

A banner on Ryerson’s undergraduate sociology Facebook page features four figures of classical sociology: Marx, Weber, and, where we might expect Durkheim to be, W.E.B. Du Bois and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Importantly for us, Du Bois and Gilman are two sociologists who also wrote fiction.  To treat Gilman and Du Bois as founding figures, then, is to suggest an alternative approach for practicing sociology, one that treats imaginative writing as an opportunity for investigating social problems.  For this presentation I will focus my attention principally on Gilman.  Gilman published her social analysis alongside her poetry, parables, short stories, and serialized novels in her one-woman journal, The Forerunner (1909-1916).  There, her fictional characters quite literally embody theories of economic parasitism, and her storylines often function as applications of theories of gynaecocentricity.  Gilman’s fiction also manages to escape the static quality that often weakens her analytic work.  The weight of inherited beliefs described in The Man-Made World (1911), and the biologism that runs throughout her work, threaten to incapacitate her readers.  At least in her fiction Gilman offers us examples of individual strength and courage for self-determination.  This paper takes its direction from Goldmann (1964), Lepenies (1985), Löwy & Sayre (1992), and Levitas (2013).


Telling a sociological story: analysis of some similarities between academic and literary texts

Anna Borisenkova, membre associé, Centre d'étude des mouvements sociaux, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris, France) senior research fellow, Centre for fundamental sociology, the Higher school of economics (Moscow, Russia),

All structures on words are partly rhetorical, and hence literary...     the notion of a scientific or philosophical verbal structure free of rhetorical elements is an illusion.

If so, then our literary universe has expanded into a verbal universe.…

(Northrop Frye: 1957)[1]


The purpose of this paper, inspired by Northrop Frye's argument, is to ask some challenging questions in regards to sociologic writing and its tendency to use special literary devices similar to the devices used by literary texts. In using Paul Ricoeur’s concepts of metaphor and narrative, I will emphasize the way these forms of discourse are widely applied by sociologists. I will demonstrate how and why metaphors, elaborated in classic sociological theories by Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, are used in contemporary sociological reasoning. I will argue that the narrative way of describing phenomena typical for literary texts is a prevalent writing practice in sociology. In order to prove this, examples from theoretical works and research reports will be analyzed. The application of these literary devices in sociological texts reveals a strong inter-weaving of the sociological and the literary and will provide critical reflections on sociological theory and methodology.


[1] Frye, N. (1957) Anatomy of Criticism, Four Essays. NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.


Dangerous Young Men: Themes of Masculinity in Paranormal Romance Novels

Shannon Russell, University of Ottawa Graduate Studies-Department of Sociology and Anthropology,

Patterns of masculine and feminine portrayals can be found everywhere, yet one place sociologists tend not to look is in novels. Young adult novels have generated 27 million dollars in e-books alone in 2011, with paranormal romances and dystopian genres making up the majority of the sales (Canadian Business, 2014). Understanding these novels is sociologically important because they are reaching wider audiences with their adaptation into Hollywood blockbusters. While the novels demonstrate stronger characteristics given to women, the messages about the ideal male in the novel often reflects one who is putting the female in danger. A content analysis of ten popular paranormal young adult novels demonstrates patterns of the construction of gender. Drawing on Radway’s (1984) analysis of romance novels and Connell’s (2005) theories of masculinities, this paper explores the messages in paranormal fiction geared to a mainly young adult female reading audience. My preliminary findings demonstrate thus far that these books reflect unhealthy ideas about relationships, violence, the body, and sexuality. The novels portray masculine bodies as hard, dangerous, and seductive. They also share a storyline consisting of the fear of getting killed by someone they are in love with. Notions of hegemonic, traditional, and new masculinities are explored in order to create a definition that suits the construction of masculinity created in these novels.


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