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Socio-criticism, mediations and interdisciplinarity


1. The challenges of the in-between

“It is not yet certain that the term ‘socio-criticism’ [...] has been purged of all ambiguity” wrote Claude Duchet in 1975 (5). This “theoretical malaise” was, according to Duchet, of an essentially provisory nature, due to the impulsiveness of preliminary socio-critical studies; nevertheless, everything indicates that the term socio-criticism perpetuates and generates its own set of re-foundations or theoretical balances1. This is not due to the lack of a specific object, which usually produces a coherent conceptual apparatus and a specific methodology, as Duchet considered: rather, it is due to the state of in-betweenness inherent to socio-criticism’s objective. Socio-criticism, in effect, involves an inevitable “epistemological jump from text to context” (Belleau 1999 [1980]: 78), as well as theories and methods conceived for an object (literature) and other approaches elaborated through distinctive frameworks and perspectives (sociology, social history, sociolinguistics). These issues arise as soon as the scholar seeks to interrogate the sociality of the text and to elucidate the procedures and tactics of the process of semiotic transformation of the social operated by and in the text, in brief, to articulate textual phenomena and social phenomena by means of analysis. Nevertheless, the scholar must take this chance.

Furthermore, it may be that socio-criticism is entirely devoted to assume and to elucidate this awkward state, this in-betweenness, by route of the notion of mediation. Recall, on this subject, the postulate of Duchet: “If there is nothing in the text that does not result from a certain action of society ... , there is then nothing that may be directly deductible from this action. From here arises the decisive importance of mediations” (1979: 4), or even the more recent formula of Edmond Cros, according to which socio-criticism aims to reconstitute “the ensemble of mediations that deconstruct, displace, re-organize or re-semantize the different representations of individual and collective experience” (2003: 37)2. Through this lens, socio-criticism can be conceived as the study of the multiple forms of mediations between literature and the order of discourse as much as between social discourse (as well as literary discourse) and the artistic, social, economic, political and religious phenomena of any given era. Thus, it is important to conceptually grasp the ensemble of these mediations, to identify those methods that are apt to elucidate and to reason out, through this optic, the work of the social operated in different corpus of texts, whether they have or have not been conceived of and received as “literary”.

To examine texts within a framework of a dynamic triangulation with the other poles of discursive configurations and socio-historic configurations also exploits the frontal opposition with the discipline of sociology of literature, permitting the construction of other connections without leading to confusion between these two distinct ways of proceeding. This approach consists as well of identifying on which levels and through which modes the necessary interdisciplinary work may be accomplished, for which approaches other than the sociology of literature are indispensible. The ambition of socio-criticism at the heart of literary studies and, more generally, of the humanities and social sciences, may be exactly this: to (re)think and (re)read more delicately the dynamic of mediations between the social and the representations of the social in all their historicity and their textual density.

2. Interaction and determinism

In this reading of the work of the in-between effectuated by socio-criticism, we postulate that the logic underlying the mediations and, more generally, the relations between individuals and systems, fields or frameworks of action, may be qualified with a light determinism. Therefore we do not subscribe to overly deterministic conceptions that tend to attribute everything, in the end, to social mechanisms. More particularly, we do not subscribe to studies of literature that reduce that which is played out in texts and in discourse to effects produced by infrastructural laws, states of fact, hierarchies or hegemonies. Nor do we adhere to those conceptions that accord exclusive place to the actor and tend to try and tease out the ensemble of structures, social mechanisms and effects through the analysis of the actor’s actions.

Rather, we subscribe to the perspective of limited autonomy and of partial constraint while placing in evidence the constant rebound between social structures and individual actions, as well as between diverse levels on which and to which literature is deployed and attached. We aim thus to account for both determinisms and phenomena of illusio (Bourdieu) as much as for the diverse and fluctuating degrees of knowledge of actors of their own practices, as well as the diverse effects of their actions on structures. There is no benign ecumenicalism in this unstable position, but rather the aim to seek to draw out forces and actions that are in a perpetual state of reconfiguration and interdependence. Moreover, the integration of a multiplicity of determinations and interactions, in an analytical framework, permits us to distinguish the levels of determinations and of interactions, and thus to escape from a determinist and unilateral reading without removing determinations: this in line with processes that have lead many scholars in the social sciences to reconsider the works of Simmel and of Elias. The latter, through his notion of “configuration”, theoretically translated the dynamic constant interdependencies which presuppose the unique position of the individual within society at the same time as his or her dependence on the surrounding world3. This rapport, which cannot be reduced to either one or the other pole (there are no “individuals” without a “society”, there are no “subjects” without “objects”), may constitute the foundation of a new and fruitful way of thinking about this tension that is both unique – the work of art – and nevertheless included from the beginning in the process of creation in a network of interdependencies.

3. Singularity and socialization

In the case of literature and of any activity directly related to the production and the diffusion of semiotic objects that only make sense in reference to a reception and to an interpretation, the often irreducible opposition between systematic and individualizing approaches provokes the crucial question of singularity4.

Here, the major difficulty is to make reason of the work operated in and by texts, of the displacements, permutations, disturbances and obscurities that they introduce, while at the same time avoiding the various obstacles of “singularization” amongst which one might identify the following practices: reproduce the regime of singularity and of originality that has remained predominant for over two centuries (the cult of genius); attribute solely to literature or to texts that are socially instituted as “literary” those significant displacements in the order of discourse; assume as a qualitative jump that which is perhaps no more than a variation without historical significance or a strong hermeneutic sense; substitute the genius of the author by the brio of the researcher, who always knows, regardless of his or her object, how to draw out a form of textual singularity; base one’s work on a corpus that is too methodologically restrained to permit any form of generalization on the role played by the reproduction and the transformation of social discourse in the creation of the text.

In order to avoid these tendencies, it is important to place at the heart of one’s critical perspective the constant interactions between the singularity (as a global project of a universe: literature, and as part of the eventual characteristics of a text) and socialization (i.e.: all forms of exterior determination, of the reproduction of what is already there, discursively, of the manifestation of the social dimension of the text). This is achieved by devoting oneself to the study of intermediary instances and operations, and in analysing the multiple interactions, displacements, and disorderings that are permitted by the diverse mediations from the social to the text (and back). From here, socio-criticism might play a specific role at the heart of research in the social sciences and humanities, in the sense that it does not adopt the postulate of the singularity of its objects, but on the contrary proposes this singularity as a fundamental problem which it seeks to interrogate. For the socio-critical approach, great importance is placed on the need to distinguish between the hermeneutical character of its way of working, of which the first object of study is this relatively autonomous “unity” that is the text, and the claim of singularity that is inherent to modern art.

We do not intend, as such, to return to the positivism of large corpuses, of quantitative data, of the well-squared framework, of copious erudition. Neither do we intend to elaborate a protocol prescribing a straight trajectory that will effortlessly lead to the discovery of mediations. As André Belleau points out: “in effect, critical practice aims much more at posing problems than at constructing models; it operates with pertinent questionings, with adequate concepts, with a good knowledge of the terrain and a great deal observation”(1999 [1980]: 14). However, if the “terrain” changes with each study, the appropriate methods, questionings and concepts change as well, lending themselves to more general reflections and inviting us to periodically redraw the map of socio-criticism.

4. Mediations

In order to understand what the text does to the social, and what the social does to the text, one must identify the mediations that operate on any given text, and see how these mediations retranslate or transpose themselves in the text. Or, despite the importance of the notion of mediation for socio-criticism, there have been few studies that aimed to establish its principal forms. We do not pretend to aim for an impossible exhaustiveness, but seek rather to identify the principal axes of mediations which have been or should be examined. Only, due to the diversity of these mediations, any study of them implies an interdisciplinary effort that, far from drowning out any socio-critical specificity, must lead socio-criticism to conceive itself as a federative perspective. Through its will to interrogate the sociality of the text in all of its forms, socio-criticism can integrate the questions, the approaches, and the methods of other traditions and disciplines, which become much like “auxiliary sciences”. Ruth Amossy writes: “The question remains open to these modes of analysis as ‘explanations’ of works or as a necessary step, implicating a dialogue with other approaches” (2002: 581). We judge that, without denying its specificity or the indispensible participation of its forms of micro-readings, socio-criticism must resolutely opt for the second hypothesis. The socio-critical approach has no need to conceive of itself as a radical opposition, or as a form of isolationism that remains ignorant to other works that also aim, though through different perspectives, to elucidate the mediations between the text and the social. Socio-criticism must on the contrary show that it is indispensible to these types of analysis, in a division of critical work that remains open to various forms of collaboration.

Similarly, on a more concrete level, the overview of diverse axes of mediation must not be conceived as the announcement of a program of research or as a road to follow in the study of a corpus. We could not imagine suggesting that the scholar must review, one after another, all possible mediations, as if this plurality guaranteed a hermeneutical surplus. In any case, to take mediations into global consideration can be accomplished at the heart of a similar work a fortiori if it is accomplished by a single researcher in the restricted limits of a scientific article (the dominant model of academic production). From here arises the necessity of varying one’s perspectives, to pass from one mediation to another, according to the objects being studied and to take into account the articulations between mediations from one case to another, since they never operate alone but always through prisms (Viala 1988: 70-71); from which also arises the importance of collaborative research endeavours, that can help to examine and explain several of these axes within the context of one project5.

4.1 “Discursive” mediations

Discourse is the primordial level on which mediations play out. As Tynianov stated, “Social life enters into correlation with literature above all due to its verbal nature” (2001 [1965]; cited in Cros 2003: 31). This is the fundamental postulate of socio-criticism: the reproduction of the social in a text is above all of a discursive order and formal procedures and the inter-textual shell are the most reflective facets of the refraction of the social. This postulate still possesses its original pertinence more than forty years after the publication of Claude Duchet’s foundational article (1971). Nevertheless, diverse approaches such as discourse analysis and the concept of intermediality have contributed to new articulations of this original layer of mediations, thus making it useful to redraw the contours of such approaches.

Social discourse, conceived as a cohesive, hierarchical and structured ensemble of the totality of discourses of any given historical period, of which the theory was developed by Angenot (inspired by the work of Bakhtine and Foucault), plunges each text in a generalized state of intertextuality, and from this state, re-instates each sign of sociality belonging to this text, in both the enunciated as well as in enunciation, in its axiology as is its axiomatic, to that which it enunciates in the contemporary discursive mass. This theory and its set of methodological tools gave a solid base to the study of the co-text, to use the term proposed by Claude Duchet, and provoked an in-depth renewal of socio-criticism by placing in question, among others, the postulate of singularity6.

From another perspective, certain studies have introduced through discourse analysis other notions that may contribute to the elucidation of mediations, especially those aligned to the study of ethos, to the scene of enunciation or to paratopie (Maingueneau). As well, several sociolinguistic studies, such as those carried out by Labov (1972) and Milroy (1987), have explored the modulation and the symbolization of the social within the context of oral interactions; however, if their research, methods and discoveries can help make sense of how discourse works in tandem with the social, there seems to be a general and reciprocal disconnect between sociolinguistics and socio-criticism.

Apart from the mass of printed texts, one must also consider those mediations that are due specifically to the “semiosphere”: to productions that involve a symbolic dimension. From the plastic arts to video games, as well as the comic book, cinema, music or digital culture, these instances effectuate diverse formations of the social that interact with other formations of discourse. In this instance, works dealing with the subject of intermediality appear to be capable of enriching socio-critical reflections on mediation, in the sense that through their own analyses of the “in-between”, they take account of the inherently material and social, as well as semiotic character of texts (see the journals Medium and Intermédialités).

At the same time as being incorporated in these discursive and media-related ensembles that impose, before any form of writing, their own representations of the social and their own modes of representation, the text reworks them through the bias of its own internal mediations, specifically, those mediations related to form. Determined to avoid inflicting content on sociology, socio-criticism has made formal mediations its principal object of investigation, even the foundation of its constitution as a distinct approach. If there is no need to insist once more on the importance of these “literary institutions”, to borrow the expression of Alain Viala, one might question the relative cohesion of studies. To put it brutally, one of the problems inherent to socio-criticism, which is related partially to the essentially comprehensive nature of its approach, is that of what one might call the cumulativeness of its discoveries. In what manner might the riches of socio-critical interpretations contribute to more general syntheses? How might we proceed from the hermeneutic of the specific corpus to ahistory of formal mediations, as sketched out by the group GREGES, for example (1989)? In a certain way, these questions are related to the problem of diachronism, of the articulation between socio-criticism and history that remains problematic, but rarely problematized.

4.2 Institutional mediations

This first level of mediations, operating within and through language by means of formal, rhetorical and semiotic resources belonging to each specific type of text, is in a certain manner stripped of actors and of processes, as the literary process was immaterial, playing out on a purely linguistic level. In other words, the mediation of the social takes place within the social and is linked to the action carried out by mediative instances between the text and the social. We propose thus to distinguish from this level a second level of mediations possessing a double nature: on one hand, their implication in the socialization of texts, their position as interface between the internal logic of the literary sphere and external logic (economical, ethical, religious or political constraints) render these mediations abstract and procedural; on the other hand, by virtue of the processes put into motion, their effect becomes evident in a number of ways in the texts themselves, in the choice of forms, the work on intertextuality, the path of re-writing leading from the desire to write a specific text to its publication. The institutions of literary life (Viala 1990) are not pure spaces of determination, exterior to the text; rather they press closely on the text itself – on the writing of the text and the reading of the text. From the source and the end point of the text, but also at its heart, literary institutions are aligned with the process of the textualization of the social.

The steps leading from manuscript to printed word mobilize two preliminary series of institutional mediations. Firstly, the mediations resulting from the circulation of pre-texts between the hands of many actors (counsellors, publishers, journal editors, professional readers, literary colleagues), the study of which may be elucidated by a socio-genesis integrating the role of these mediators with the gains of genetic criticism. Secondly, the mediations produced by textual supports (manuscript, typescript, photocopy or printed text; type and format of paper, of characters, jacket, etc) the study of which has been enriched through book history and descriptive bibliography. These latter approaches neglect to ask, however, what textual materiality “says” about the social7. The text is always tributary to a delta-like web of actions deployed by a plurality of social actors. The mediations produced by mediators and by materiality itself are also closely related, even inseparable, since the intervention of the first reveals itself to be often decisive in the transformation of the text into a book. To impose corrections, apply a title, fix margins, or opt for a luxury paper or a large format: these are all operations that not only pertain to the “external surface” of the text, being analyzable according to commercial logistics, but also pertain to other symbolic arrangements, that generate their own set of specific socialities.

Once a book is published and distributed, it does not lose all interest for the socio-critic, who otherwise could leave it to sociologies of reading and to reception studies. For, through its social circulation, the text passes through multiple institutional mediations that help to sediment its meaning, interposing layers of reading between the meaning of the text and its reader (and also, the socio-critic). If we propose, in contrast, that socio-criticism can only adopt the postulate that the meaning of the text is not “inherent”, independent of its appropriations and interpretations, it follows that socio-criticism must attempt to articulate receptions and mediations of the text.

Thus, the socio-critic investigates, among others: a) interferences between the text, the paratexts (dedications, epigraphs, frontispieces, back covers) and the epitexte (Genette 1997) generated by the mediatisation of the literary practice (interviews, photographic portraits, descriptions of writers houses); b) the “triple game” that plays out in literature and in art between creators, specialists and the public, through which is re-established the chain between the production and the reception of the cultural product (Heinich 1998); c) the “instances of recognition” (the publisher adding a certain title to his catalogue; the literary critic, neutral, polemical or even complacent, choosing to discuss or to not discuss a certain work) and the “instances of consecration” (Dubois 1979) (prizes and other gratifications) according to which is founded a specific literary canon.

In this manner, one of the major contributions of the theory of the literary field, as elaborated by Pierre Bourdieu, has been the underlining of the fruitfulness of a social logic that is specific to the literary sphere. Bourdieu takes care to remind us, alongside other examples, of the “the effect of refraction exercised by the field [on] writers who are the most visibly subject to external necessities” (Bourdieu 1996 [1992]: 221). Even if one might judge that the reduction of texts to a series of positionings at the heart of the literary field demotes rather brutally the work of the text to the expression of a strategy (conscious or unconscious), when studying the phenomena of mediation through the examination of “effects of the field” it is indispensible to take under consideration those strategies that are native to the literary field (which remains “relatively” autonomous). This is not to say, it must be repeated, that this prism must be held as the ultimate key of interpretation.

4.3 Social practices

We postulate in effect that, despite the determinative importance of institutional and discursive mediations, other “mediating” channels and other dialectics have an influence on the sociality of a text. This postulate is for the most part shared by scholars who practice socio-criticism; nevertheless one can note that mediations operating on this level have been the least studied and the least systematically theorized, despite the statement of André Belleau according to which “a properly constituted socio-criticism ... could implicate not only a theory of the text but also a theory of society” (1999 [1980]: 128). Almost thirty years later, the conditional seems to remain in place, no doubt since one refers here to questions that are closer to other approaches and disciplines, in particular sociology and cultural history. Must one entirely surrender the study of relations between discourse and social practices, in particular questions of a historical nature, to these approaches? We think not, mainly because of the “triangular dialectic” between texts, discourses and social phenomena, all of which are animated by the incessant confrontation, experienced by each individual, consciously or unconsciously, between the order of discourse and the sensible experience of the social. Social practices, in all their diversity and complexity, separate, hierarchize and particularize the relation between the social and the individual.

The proliferation of historical and sociological research on the social dimensions of culture or the cultural dimensions of the social deserves to be examined with particular attention by the scholar pursuing this optic of research. The work of R. Chartier, A. Corbin, C. Ginzburg, E. Levine, P. Burke and other scholars in fact often integrates the question of representation while gathering together corpuses that include legitimate literary texts, mass literature, samples of the discursive mass, etc. The analysis of these social practices, as an axis of mediation, constitutes perhaps the terrain par excellence of meetings between the socio-critical approach and other approaches developed in other frameworks, based on other postulates. From here arises the necessity to develop a critical form of interdisciplinarity concerned with avoiding syncretism and epistemological contradictions while remaining open to a conceptual and methodological dialogue or to collaborations based on shared objects of study.

To attempt to paint a portrait of all the mediations at work according to this axis is obviously impossible, even if one sketched out only its principal forms. In sum, the choice of which mediations to study essentially depends on the object of study for each researcher. Nevertheless, we believe it to be useful to underline the heuristic character of certain avenues, even if in a succinct manner. One avenue could be that of axiological constructions: the elaboration of norms, of values and of hierarchies. After the work carried out by Hamon (1998), who made evident the importance of evaluative operations within texts and who interrogated, according to the notion of ideology, the relations between the mise en texte of value and socially pregnant systems of difference, it could be pertinent to elucidate the problem of value (of texts and within texts) based on practices, institutions, media and other mediations that play out in any given socio-historical situation. Certainly, the logic of distinction and sociological interpretations of reception have highlighted many aspects of this problem; nevertheless a study of discursive and formal procedures must complete, even rework such analyses since, here as much as elsewhere, form often constitutes a “sedimentation of content”, to borrow the expression of Adorno.

The invention of collective identities crosses over onto this first avenue of research, but also touches on other mediations. It is here that has existed for some time on the conceptual level a hiatus, an unbridgeable chiasm, between that which is related to the most tangible phenomena and is most solidly enchased in the real (social classes, for example), and that which is related sometimes to phantasm, sometimes to reflections (literature). Diverse currents in anthropology and in sociology have helped to bridge this gap, among others by showing the importance of discourse in the construction of imagined communities (the nation, for Anderson (1991 [1983])) or of rhetoric in social interactions (Herzfeld 1997), to give only two examples. The open convergence with socio-criticism, which has on its own end contributed to different articulations of social identities and formal mediations, owes much to the “linguistic turn” that has marked social science and can often camouflage the profound incompatibility of epistemological frameworks. The site of studies on the socio-discursive construction of identities is in effect occupied by a quantity of distinctive perspectives, from feminism to post-colonialism, from the study of places of memory to deconstructions of historiographical narrations. This does not prevent socio-criticism from playing its own role on this terrain and seeking to identify the approaches with which a dialogue would be the most fruitful, in order to eventually arrive at certain objects, to identify with more clarity and depth the levels of mediation that modulate social differentiations.

Many other pathways appear apt to skew the analyses of discursive mediations and of literary life by providing an opening for mediations that operate within the framework of social practices, as well as to other approaches or disciplines related to these practices. It could be a matter of either the city or of labour, but we do not only consider the pathway leading towards the analysis of sociabilities. The social is not only a question of abstract determinations, of anonymous masses, of categories or of transversal mechanisms, but also pertains to concrete social interactions, local “communities”, that serve as filters between the social and its representations, among others through the bias of “sociolectes” which have formed the base of Zima’s study on the Proustian novel (1988). It is thus important to account for sociabilities as forms of mediation, among other reasons, because the rapport between writers and the social passes through this filter and because contact with literature, with discourse, with forms of capital, and with social divisions is in a certain manner canalized and oriented by interactions with others and by local configurations at the heart of which writers are placed (reviews, publishing houses, literary circles, associations, more or less formalized networks). Thus, there are necessarily shifts between a) the totality of that which is published in any given society; b) the part of this totality that is the object of discourse in the media; c) books that are circulated and are the subject of conversation and discussion within any given group. Now these shifts produce certain effects, cause certain readings, orient towards a certain form of writing, introduce distortions between social discourse, the field and writers. In a word: much more than an anecdotal aside, sociablility operates as a significant mediation between literature and society.

4.4 The social imaginary

Often used yet rarely theorized, the notion of the “social imaginary” appears to be one of the important mediations of the social that the socio-critic must continue to investigate8. Closely tied to the development of research on social discourse, this notion has always possessed a fundamentally ambivalent nature, caught between description and prescription. It refers to both that which society dreams of, and that which has the power to make society dream, to repeat some of the aspects of the definition recently proposed by Pierre Popovic9. The principle merit of this concept is allied perhaps to the fact that it seeks to account for the effects belonging to fiction in the social world, of the returning effects, and the determinations that influence reality, mark sensibilities, even command actions, and all this in a quasi anthropological perspective: according to Angenot and Robin, “the text contributes to the production of a social imaginary, to the offering of figures of identity (and of identification) to social groups; to fix representations of the world that have a social function” (1984: 53).

At this level the conceptual shifts and recoveries are often difficult to follow in all their ramifications. The literary text works on a very particular form of intertextuality of which the object is the “socialization” of the text and of literary imaginaries. The well known stories of “misreading” that are not without consequence regarding “reality” (Don Quixote, Madame Bovary), or those of the mediations of art and literature on aesthetic appreciations of the real (À la recherche du temps perdu), bear witness to the fact that there is no place more attentive to the effects of literature than literature itself. From the social imaginary must arise as well a reflection on the “mythic imaginary” (Mitterand 1990) in the sense that the reactive literature of the great myths that traverse the history of societies at the same time as contributing to their development have taken shape and form, in certain cases, by integrating them into the practices and rites of writing. Take, for example, the myth of Bohemia, inseparable from the formation of the idea of literary and artistic modernity, at the roots of which one finds a series of social stereotypes (the wandering Bohemians), topoï (the poor but happy artist), scenes (the orgy, the frugal dinner, the hospital bed), key characters (the grisette, the apprentice painter, the decrepit poet, the land lord), that are formed in France during the July Monarchy. From Murger to Puccini, to Vallès and Bloy, the myth of Bohemia “precipitates” in a series of literary works that claim to reflect a certain mode of artistic life and contribute in fact to the generation of types of practices and rituals that in turn are exported to the great cities of Europe and the Americas (Brissette and Glinoer 2010).

This is neither the time nor the place to limit the social imaginary to the realm of literature, even if in the long term literature has no doubt been its predominating element, and the novel most particularly from the 19th century. It is not a question of returning to literary solipsism, to the restrictive examination of the literary world as it imagines itself to be. It is rather a question of interrogating a certain “efficacity” of discourses, and notably the values that are the constituent parts of the social imaginary and that assure a great deal of returning-effects on the social and practices. In other words, it is a question of interrogating a certain form of “inertia” of the imaginary of literature that permits us to observe and to analyse its capacity to impregnate the social world, to traverse history and to confer to societies frameworks of appreciation and of judgement. In this, the social imaginary develops without doubt within the confines of that which cultural history has, for its part, proposed around the notion of representation10.

This overview of mediations encompasses a vast territory shared by many perspectives and disciplines. It does not constitute, as we have stated, a program of research, but invites us rather to think about the articulation between socio-critical research, carried out in regards to specific objects, generally on a short or medium-term horizon, and the enterprise of the conceptualization of multiple forms and axes of mediation, which is never complete and ever renewing. As well, through this overview we seek to think about this research and these conceptualizations while taking account of sites of convergence, of dialogue and of confrontation (let us avoid subscribing to an idealized vision of academic research) between the various perspectives and disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. Socio-criticism must not be diluted within the larger domain of sociology of literature, of discourse analysis, of cultural history, of intermediality, of the history of the book, but it must assume more clearly the fact that its domains of research and many of its most fundamental interrogations are shared with these approaches, and that, consequently, it must seek to take account of this inevitable interdisciplinarity. The task of scholars is to allow socio-criticism to borrow from these varied tool boxes as needed those instruments that are best suited to elucidate their object of study.

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Popovic, Pierre

2008 Imaginaire social et folie littéraire. Le second Empire de Paulin Gagne (Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal).

Robin, Régine

1993 “Pour une socio-poétique de l’imaginaire social,” Discours social/Social Discourse, 5, 1-2: 7-32.

Tynianov, Iouri

2001 [1925-1927] “De l’évolution littéraire,” in Théories de la littérature, edited by Tzvetzan Todorov (Paris, Seuil).

Viala, Alain

1988 “Effets de champ, effets de prisme,” Littérature, 70: 64-75.

1990 “L’Histoire des institutions littéraires,” in L’Histoire littéraire aujourd’hui, edited by H. Béhar and R. Fayolle, 111-121 (Paris: Armand Colin).

Zima, Pierre V.

1988 L’Ambivalence romanesque. Proust, Kafka, Musil (Bern: Peter Lang).


  1. On the history of socio-criticism, see Edmond Cros, La sociocritique (2003), Marc Angenot, Bibliographie de la sociocritique et de la sociologie de la littérature and Anthony Glinoer, « Introduction », in Anthony Glinoer (ed.), “Carrefours de la sociocritique” (2009 : 7-10).
  2. A major current of the sociology of art and of music, since the work of Baxandall, Howard Becker, Nathalie Heinich and Antoine Hennion, has from an early stage integrated the notions of mediation and mediator. According to Hennion: “If other readings give justice to the sociology of art, it is striking to state that its task may be summarized as a restitution, either empirical or theoretical, of the mediators of art” (1994: 171). However, notion of mediation has been so invasive, that at this stage in time they play the role of “keystone” for this current of sociology of art, sometimes leading to a masking either of the hermeneutic of works, or of the universe of beliefs, concurrences and conflicts in which all these interventions take place.
  3. “Contemporary usage would lead us to believe that the two distinct concepts, ‘the individual’ and ‘society’, denote two independently existing objects, whereas they really refer to tow different but inseparable levels of the human word” (Elias, 1978 [1970]:129).
  4. In regards to the opposition between the regime of singularity and the regime of community in the spheres of cultural activity, see the works of Nathalie Heinich, such as L’Élite artiste. Excellence et singularité en régime démocratique (2005).
  5. Though, by presenting this overview of forms of mediation, we not claim to constitute a program of research, the reflection on the determinations, interactions and transformations that inspired it is in part tied to a specific project. This project, carried out within the support of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, aims to reconstitute the vast corpus of novels of the literary life in France that, from 1800 to 1940, show the writer in interaction with his peers and diverse literary mediators, in order to see how, at the exact moment when it imposed itself as a social space, literature thought of itself, by way of the novel, as a site of socialization, of identity anchoring and of collective work.
  6. It is important, on the other hand, to not turn theory on its head, by substituting the research of regularities and repetitions a quest that is essentially occupied with the identification of anomalies and interferences.
  7. The exception being the current issuing from the work of Donald F. McKenzie, who proposed the aim of a “sociology of texts” because such an endeavour seeks to provide a social signification to all aspects of the book: “In the pursuit of historical meanings, we move from the most minute feature of the material form of the book to questions of authorial, literary, and social context” (1999: 23). If his proposition deals primarily with the material aspects of the book and what these materialities can teach us about the “intentions” of authors and publishers, it has the merit of combating scholars tendency to passively accept disciplinary boundaries.
  8. Régine Robin (1993) wrote the constitutive article on this topic without proposing a concrete definition of the social imaginary.
  9. According to Popovic, the social imaginary, or “l’imaginaire social” is a “waking dream” that “each society maintains according to its own needs and usage” ; it is “composed of interactive ensembles of correlative representations, organized in latent fictions, recomposed unceasingly by speech, texts, photos and images, discourses and works of art” (2008:23, 24).
  10. Roger Chartier (1989) provides a useful synthesis of the vast number of works that deal with this issue.