The PhD Research Group (Promotionskolleg) Literary Theory as Theory of Society offerd a doctoral programme for all fields of literary studies from 2012-2016. The programme, which ended in the summer term of 2016 was an independent college of the Graduate School Practices of Literature and funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation.
Former PhD Students and Alumni
Esteban Sanchino Martinez
The official ending of the project was celebrated with a closing ceremony on May 3rd 2016. Prof. Dr. Eckart Gobel from the University of Tuebingen held a lecture on "Paria und Patria. Hannah Arendts 'Gespensterwelt'"at the event. See our picture gallery here
Die vom Promotionskolleg eingeladene Frau Prof. Dr. Isabella Peters referierte am 28. Januar 2016 über "Science 2.0: Traditionelle Wissenschaftssysteme und Reputationsprozesse". Im anschließenden Workshop ging es um Selbstpräsentation in der Wissenschaft.
Crimes of Passion - Representation of sexual pathology in the early 20th century
The publication Crimes of Passion to the corresponding international conference held in Muenster (24 to 26 July 2013) and organised by PK Lit and GS PoL members is now available!
Winter School I Graduate School Practices of Literature der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster, 3. bis 5. Dezember 2014
Die Winter School richtet sich an Nachwuchswissenschaftler/innen aller Philologien, Kultur- wie Sozialwissenschaften und soll Thematisierungen bzw. Thematisierungsweisen des Sozialen in der Gegenwartsliteratur sowie sozialästhetische Relationierungen in der Literatur- wie Kulturtheorie in den Blick nehmen. Diskutiert werden soll, ob sich entsprechende Tendenzen in der Literatur und der Academia als “social turn“ konzeptualisieren lassen.
Newest Publication: "Literatur. Macht. Gesellschaft"
The Graduate School Literaturtheorie has recently published the anthology Literatur. Macht. Gesellschaft. Neue Beiträge zur theoretischen Modellierung des Verhältnisses von Literatur und Gesellschaft.
For information on the anthology please visit the homepage of the publishing company.
Report on the conference “digital. sozial. marginal? – Literatur und Computerspiel in der digitalen Gesellschaft” now online
Locating the PK LiTG
The social relevance of literature and literary theory was brought to the fore among the protest movements of the 1960s, although, as Tilmann Köppe and Simone Winko emphasize, authors like Johann Gottried Herder, Friedrich Schiller and Anne Louise Germaine de Stael had begun to consider literature in its social contexts around 1800 (cf. Köppe/Winko 2008, 149).
It wasn’t until the 20th century, especially until the late 1960s, that scientific approaches started to examine relationships between literature and society more closely. As new approaches and field were created, e.g. social history of literature, literary sociology and Marxist literary theory, political and research interests were often merged. Analyses of working class literature and literary depictions of social structures – themes hitherto disregarded by scholars – were seen to be granting historical recognition to underprivileged classes.
As the socio-political expectations of 1968 remained unfulfilled, literature and literary theory alike took a step away from political and social themes. In Germany, ‘New Subjectivity’ emerged as the dominant movement of the 1970s.
The search for new theoretical directions prompted an ever-growing influence of postmodernist-approaches during the 1980s, originating mostly from the United States and France: poststructuralism, deconstruction, discourse analysis, semiotics, studies of intertextuality, psychoanalytic literary criticism, and systems theory – these were the approaches of a new generation of scholars, focusing on textual structures and abstract theoretical models rather than specific socio-political connections. These new approaches proved to be highly influential for the development of literary criticism as they entailed the emancipation from traditional mimetic approaches that had always regarded literature as a reflection of reality. They focused critical attention on the role of language in constructing and representing ‘reality’, a term that has ever since been problematised.
The 1990s brought back a desire for an engagement with the social significance of literature, giving rise to the so-called cultural turn in the humanities. It breached borders between disciplines and made ‘culture’ its leading category. In this context new theories became popular in Germany as well, e.g. Stephan Greenblatt’s New Historicism that stressed text-context relations (cf. Baßler [Ed.] 2001; Baßler 2005). This turn towards cultural studies meant that literary texts were regarded in terms of their interrelationship to other cultural phenomena and that certain socio-cultural themes, such as ‘memory’, ‘body’, ‘fashion’ etc. were scrutinized across a variety of disciplines and were closely linked to extra-literary artefacts and documents. The notion of ‘culture’ however was often employed a broad sense and remained in need of sharp contours. The beginning of the 21st century has again seen a growing interest in social and political issues. Some part of this can certainly be attributed to the geopolitical changes since 1989 that led to the dissolution of traditional political and ideological alliances. Globalization, worldwide migration and a seemingly all-encompassing media pervasion have further put into question the significance of ‘the real’ and are challenging those academic fields that have long-since entered a critical interrelationship with the so-called ‘reality’, such as literary criticism.
Postcolonial theory, which had likewise developed in non-European scientific communities over the last decades, has also made its mark in Germany. Postcolonial theory articulates a distinct political and social momentum in which formerly colonized subjects raise their voices against former colonial powers and their categories of thinking; it is associated with the names of Edward W. Said, Homi K. Bhabha, Gayatri Chakravotry Spivak and others. A member of the PK LiTG, Mark Stein is a renowned representative of postcolonial research (Döring/Schäfer/Stein [Hgg.] 1996; Banerjee/Heide/Stein [Hgg.] 2001; Stein 2004; Reichl/Stein [Hgg.] 2005). These developments and debates will be taken up by the PK LiTG. This will concern the as of yet undefined relationships between the paradigms ‘culture’ and ‘society’. Current literary trends employ concepts of cognitive and neurologic sciences that can be subsumed under the heading ‘empirical cultural studies’ and aim at “methodological replicability and verifiability and compatibility with an ethical-political insistence on the social benefits of research.” (cf. Köppe/Winko 2008, 293). The PK LiTG will critically review these approaches and examine in how far their results match their aspirations.
The PK LiTG takes into account that the individual is increasingly regarded in its social contexts at the beginning of the 21st century, a development that has been prompted by global economic transformations that marks a point of departure from earlier decades. Today, literary engagements with ‘reality’ employ different ways and means of expression which make for new challenges in literary criticism. Socio-historical approaches of the 1960s envisaged ‘society’ as a delimitable, static subject to investigate, whereas current social-scientific research stresses its processual character and its heterogeneity. Its terminology has been accordingly actualised, differentiating between e.g. ‘civil society’ (Kebir 1991; Gosewinkel/ Rucht/Daele/Kocka [eds.] 2004; Adloff 2005, Walker/Thompson 2008), ‘risk society’ (Beck 1986, 1991), ‘leisure society’, ‘world society’ (cf. Luhmann 1975, Stichweh 2000, Bornschier 2008), and ‘network society’ (Castells 2003). Literary theory can only function as a theory of society if it is able to incorporate new developments in the social sciences into its approaches. This is facilitated as social sciences today share the view of society as a construct. This links them to literature and literary criticism alike, both of whom rely on language and linguistic significance to convey content and meaning. Whether and in how far this link between literary and social construction processes is sustainable, has not been researched sufficiently. It is precisely this point that the the PK LiTG is concerned with, to substantiate the claim of a renewed social dimension literature and literary criticism in theory and practice.
- Adloff, Frank, Zivilgesellschaft. Theorie und politische Praxis, Frankfurt a. M. 2005.
- Banerjee, Mita, Markus Heide, Mark Stein (Hgg.), Postcolonial Passages: Migration and Its Metaphors. Special issue of Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik: A Quarterly of Language, Literature and Culture 49.3 (2001).
- Baßler, Moritz (Hg.), New Historicism. Literaturgeschichte als Poetik der Kultur. Mit Beiträgen von Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose u.a., Tübingen, Basel 22001 (Erstausgabe Frankfurt a. M. 1995).
- Ders., Die kulturpoetische Funktion und das Archiv. Eine literaturwissenschaftliche Text-Kontext-Theorie, Tübingen: 2005.
- Beck, Ulrich, Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne, Frankfurt a. M. 1986.
- Ders., Politik in der Risikogesellschaft, Frankfurt a. M. 1991.
- Bornschier, Volker, Weltgesellschaft. Grundlegende soziale Wandlungen, erw. Neuausg., Zürich 2008.
- Castells, Manuel, Das Informationszeitalter, 3 Bde., Bd.1: Der Aufstieg der Netzwerkgesellschaft, Bd. 2: Die Macht der Identität, Bd. 3: Jahrtausendwende, Opladen 2001-2003.
- Döring, Tobias, Uwe Schäfer, Mark Stein (Hgg.), Can 'The Subaltern' Be Read? - The Role of the Critic in Postcolonial Studies. Acolit Sonderheft 2 (1996).
- Gosewinkel, Dieter, Dieter Rucht, Wolfgang van den Daele, Jürgen Kocka (Hgg.), Zivilgesellschaft - national und transnational. WBZ-Jahrbuch 2003, Berlin 2004.
- Kebir, Sabine, Antonio Gramscis Zivilgesellschaft. Alltag, Ökonomie, Kultur, Politik, Hamburg 1991.
- Köppe, Tilmann, Simone Winko, "9. Gesellschaftswissenschaftliche Literaturtheorien", in: dies., Neuere Literaturtheorien. Eine Einführung, Stuttgart, Weimar 2008, 149-200.
- Luhmann, Niklas, "Weltgesellschaft", in: ders., Soziologische Aufklärung, Bd. 2, 6. Aufl., Wiesbaden 2009, 63-88. [Erstpublikation 1975].
- Reichl, Susanne, Mark Stein (Hgg.), Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial. Amsterdam, New York 2005.
- Stichweh, Rudolf, Die Weltgesellschaft. Soziologische Analysen, Frankfurt a. M. 2000.
- Walker, James W. St. G., Andrew S. Thompson (Hgg.), Critical Mass. The Emergence of Global Civil, Waterloo 2008.
Research Programme (PK LiTG)
Three closely linked research areas constitute the academic framework of the PK LiTG:
1. Literature and Society
‘Literature’ and ‘Society’ are the main categories of the PK LiTG, whose specific historical and systemic dependencies are central to their interrelatedness. In the Middle Ages, boundaries between fictional, religious, scientific and political literature were never firm, but the modern period’s categorization of ‘high’ and ‘low (or popular) literature’ denigrated all but the exclusive array of ‘belles-lettres’. It wasn’t until the development of a late-, and more precisely, post-modern condition that borders between ‘high’ and ‘popular literature’ have become fragile again (cf. L. Fiedler). The PK LiTG regards these literary changes of meaning as specifically social processes.
2. Literary Theory and Society
The PKLiTG engages with the idea of ‘theory of theories’, i.e. with the functions that theory assumes for the humanities in general and literary studies in particular. Graduate students will be introduced to the principles of scientific theory and the locating of literary studies in this area of research. Questions of ‘reality’ and ‘cognition’ in literary theory will be discussed critically with regard to hermeneutics as a basic scientific discipline. Other theories of the 20th century that have either refined or abandoned hermeneutics will also be taken into account, along with the basic conditions for new theoretical approaches. Where, how, why, and through whom theories develop and which relationship they have to their contemporary reality are questions that also include the insufficiently researched topic of theoretical paradigms’ social contingency (cf. Th. Kuhn). PhD candidates face the question of how their own discipline, literary studies, can approach this vast array of theories and how they can position themselves within these theoretical disciplines.
3. Theories of Society
Our graduate students will familiarize themselves with important social theories (e.g. Talcott Parsons, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, systems theory, field theory, symbolic interactionism, modernization theory, neopragmatism, social network theory). The PK LiTG stimulates discussions of how these theoretical approaches can be applied in the field of literary studies. Current discussions, e.g. debates of so called ‘parallel societies’ or the relationship between society and globalization will be covered as well.
Aims of the PK LiTG
- We will research interrelations between literature and society with regard to their specific historical, regional and contextual dynamics. These will be considered from theoretical and analytical perspectives.
- Theoretical approaches to literary studies, both past and present, will be scrutinized to point out the extent to which they can be related to societal aspects and can provide answers, new perspectives or theoretical stimuli for societal questions.
- Social science theories will be explored with respect to their applicability in literary studies.
- Supporting graduate students
- Supporting literary education and expertise in society
- Communicating science: presenting research --beyond a purely academic sphere-- to the interested public.