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What is the sociological approach to literature?

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A sociological criticism of literature looks at both the author and the content of a work (see the first source in the links below). It examines the author's connection to their society and their position in society. For example, an author who is from the working class might have a different perspective than an author from the middle class. Additionally, the sociological approach examines the content of a literary work and looks at its views about society. One common sociological approach is the Marxist critique of literature (see the first source below), which looks at the types of class conflicts portrayed in literary works. The sociological approach can involve looking both at history and at the current day (see the second source below). For example, a sociological approach can involve analyzing the society of past literary works (such as the society in Jane Austen's novels) and examining the society of today (by asking what a literary text can tell us about today's world).

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Sociological approaches to literature can be divided into two types with two different purposes:

1. Some sociologists mine literature and other arts to discover the ways people think about society. For example, by reading novels or watching films, one can observe what sort of consumer or other habits are considered markers for prestige within various societies. Such sociologists as Pierre Bourdieu (and earlier, Thorstein Veblen) investigate cultural consumption as a way of understanding various societies.

2. Some literary critics focus on how social factors affect the production and consumption of literature. In other words, unlike the sociologists described in (1) who read literature to understand society, literary critics study society to understand literature better. Thus Marxist and feminist critics will often investigate how class and gender affect writers' lives and reputations as well as the ways that characters in literary works behave and think. 

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