Poetic Theory and Sociological Method

  • Alan Swingewood


One of the most frequent criticisms of the sociological approach to art and literature is that it succeeds only in reducing autonomous aesthetic form to the level of another, external order: the specificity of aesthetic form is effectively translated into the general categories of its social context. This is not to deny sociology a role in the study of art and literature, but it is a secondary inquiry restricted to the external domains of literary production, distribution, consumption, to the social and class background of authors, to the social structure of reading publics, to the social organisation of culture and its effects on public taste and perception. It follows from this standpoint that sociological method cannot penetrate the intrinsic properties of art and literature other than as reductive interpretative criticism. Sociological themes, elements and problems, may be extracted from a literary text, for example, and related to similar processes in society; different kinds of hero can be linked with changes in social and political organisation; broad artistic movements, such as expressionism, realism and modernism can be read as reflections of historical development. In short, sociology cannot constitute itself as a poetics. It will be the argument of this chapter that the only viable sociology of art and literature must of necessity be a sociological poetics in which the object of study is poetic form in its totality as integral art-product and in the fullness and complexity of its social/historical determinations.


Literary Work Literary Text External Reality Literary Form Sociological Approach 
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Copyright information

© Alan Swingewood 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Swingewood
    • 1
  1. 1.London School of EconomicsUK

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