The Marxist, Feminism, Post-colonialism and New Historicism are some of the critical approaches to literature that may be considered sociological as they deal with extrinsic methods of interpretation of literary texts.
The Marxist criticism, which reaches back to the thinking of Karl Marx, sees literary texts as being products of an ideology and social class. Thereafter, a literary work is examined from a socio-economic perspective. Thus, a Marxist critic is concerned with the cultural, economic or political values that a text promotes. In view of that, questions about the power relationships depicted in the work, suggestions of class conflict or struggle, and evidence of a certain ideology become pertinent in the analysis of the literary work.
The New Historicism is a rather new literary methodology and share similarities to the Marxist criticism in that the social, cultural and intellectual context is also important in order to understand the work. The New Historicists put a special emphasis on the Historical background of the text, thus all sort of primary sources are evaluated in order to grasp the work. Furthermore, the author’s biography is also relevant. However, one should be careful to label this school of criticism, since there are several different approaches to history and culture that are categorized under the name of “New Historicism”.
Feminist Criticism is a movement in critical theory to interpret or reinterpret women’s experience as depicted in literature. Thus, a feminist critic shall challenge the male ideas about women and may even attack the traditional male values in literature. Hence, a feminist reading of a text asks important questions about the roles women play in the work and whether the male or female point of view affects the reader’s perceptions.
Post-colonial theory is an attempt to understand the problems posed by the European colonialism and its consequences. In this school of criticism one attends to understand literary texts from the colonial and post–colonial subject’s point of view. Edward Said’s Orientalism helped to establish this school of theory, namely with the word “other” referring to the colonial subjects. One way to use this approach is for writers from post-colonial societies to write their own version of history that the colonialists have written.