Writers and politics: Gisèle Sapiro’s advances within the Bourdieusian sociology of the literary field

Fowler, B. (2021) Writers and politics: Gisèle Sapiro’s advances within the Bourdieusian sociology of the literary field. Theory and Society, 50(6), pp. 867-889. (doi: 10.1007/s11186-021-09445-1)

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This article undertakes a critical analysis of the work of Gisèle Sapiro, with reference to sociology of literature. From 1999 (Sapiro, 2014a), Sapiro has developed the Bourdieusian research tradition, amplifying especially Bourdieu’s theory of crisis. Focusing on the antagonisms between literary “prophets” and “priests”, she has drawn on a rich sample of 184 writers to elucidate the struggles inherent in World War II between writers from different field positions and literary habitus. Further, her historical analyses of the ethical commitments of nineteenth century writers via a fresh microsociology of literary trials (Sapiro, 2011) has reminded us of the importance of popular poets in articulating the suffering of the subordinate classes. Her most recent book (Sapiro, 2018) has expanded on her earlier themes, whilst identifying the recuperation of certain 1930s’ fascist worldviews within contemporary literature. This article notes that there is a telling divergence between Bourdieu and Sapiro on the issue of interests behind disinterestedness, exemplified in the case of Zola. On this issue, Sapiro’s reading (Sapiro, 2011) is found convincing. Finally, the dialectic of avant-garde consecration and routinisation is questioned as a universal structure. It is suggested that certain avant-garde – the Harlem Renaissance, for example – did not undergo swift consecration or routinisation, although this contention deserves greater research. The paper concludes by showing that Sapiro’s conception of writers’ responsibility owes its origins less to Sartre than to the Durkheimian/ Bourdieusian notion of the expertise of the “specific intellectual”. It welcomes Sapiro’s concern for literature as a potential force for social change.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Fowler, Professor Bridget
Authors: Fowler, B.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Journal Name:Theory and Society
ISSN (Online):1573-7853
Published Online:21 June 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Author
First Published:First published in Theory and Society 50(6): 867-889
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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