Counting and seeing the social action of literary form: Franco Moretti and the sociology of literature

Bennett, Tony (2009). Counting and seeing the social action of literary form: Franco Moretti and the sociology of literature. Cultural Sociology, 3(2) pp. 277–297.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975509105535

Abstract

This paper reviews Franco Moretti's use of statistics and techniques for visualizing the action of literary forms, and assesses their implications for the development of cultural sociology. It compares Moretti's use of such methods with the work of Pierre Bourdieu, contrasting the principles of sociological analysis developed by Bourdieu with Moretti's preoccupation with the analysis of literary form as illustrated by his accounts of the development of the English novel and the role of clues in the organization of detective stories. His attempt to use evolutionary principles of explanation to account for the development of literary forms is probed by considering its similarities to earlier evolutionary accounts of the development of design traits. While welcoming the methodological challenge posed by Moretti's work, its lack of an adequate account of the role of literary institutions is criticized, as are the effects of the forms of abstraction that his analyses rest upon.

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