CONTEXT 01-01-2014 Journal of Literary Theory Vol. 8, No. 1 (2014)

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Journal of Literary Theory
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Journal of Literary Theory Vol. 8, No. 1 (2014)


Submission Deadline: January 01, 2014


›Context‹ is often regarded as a foundational concept among those humanities and sciences that are concerned with texts. One could argue that every theory about texts or literature has to – either explicitly or implicitly – make some assumptions about what a context is. Assuming that contexts are, generally speaking, relations between a text and states of affairs external to it (such as language, genres, other texts, culture, society, or history), it is hardly imaginable that there is some theoretical enterprise concerning texts which does not involve contexts. Consequently, models of textual understanding as well as editorial or interpretative enterprises would have to take all relevant contexts into account. Nevertheless, the notion has also been discussed critically. It has been argued that it presupposes a specific conception of text which is no longer tenable, and that it should therefore be replaced by alternative concepts. It has even been suggested that the difference between text and context is obsolete and should therefore be abandoned altogether.

Compared to other foundational notions (e.g. ›author‹), ›context‹ has not yet received the adequate amount of attention by the text studies, given its importance. The concept, though often used, is explained rarely. The discourse is mostly dominated by a more or less non-technical usage of the term, which comprises various ways of speaking. This situation calls for terminological clarification of the concept.

A closer look at different textual and literary theories reveals a vast variety of opinions regarding the question which contexts are relevant and provide fruitful grounds for the interpretation of literature. Structuralists argue that texts are defined by their systematic semiotic relations. Post-structuralists concentrate on discursive and intertextual references and relations. Author-oriented approaches emphasize contexts of production, such as authors’ biographies, other works, or facts that might reveal information about their intentions. Reader-oriented approaches focus on the cognitive capacities of readers and their aesthetic judgements. Those accounts generally describe context as knowledge and capacities on part of the reader. Theories that concentrate on society and culture have proposed models that relate context and text to each other in terms of system theory, theories of action, or social field theory. This list can easily be expanded. Consequently disagreement about the question which theoretical foundation should be used to analyze text and context prevails. This pluralism of theories calls for a critical survey as well as further reflection on the concept, which would allow to go beyond the status quo of fundamental disagreement. Furthermore, texts in digital media seem to pose entirely new challenges for the humanities and their use of the concept.

Currently, a variety of contexts is factored into textual inquiries. However, it is rarely made explicit which criteria guide the decision about which contexts to include, and what follows from those decisions. Thus, it seems necessary to reflect methodologically on the significance of contexts for literary and textual inquiries.

Possible topics and questions could include, but are not limited to:

What does ›context‹ refer to? What should it mean?
How is the concept to be distinguished from related concepts, such as ›cotext‹ or ›situation‹? What are the systematic relations between those concepts? What is the relation between ›context‹ and ›discourse‹?
Is there an adequate way to classify the variety of states of affairs that are referred to as ›context‹?

How should the relation between text and context be described?
Which facts constitute the context as the environment for a text?
What kinds of entities are contexts?
What is the role of contexts in textual understanding?

How can it be decided whether a context is adequate, relevant, or fruitful for a certain text?
What role do contexts play in the formulation and verification of hypotheses about texts?
What role do contexts play in scientific argumentation?

Is there a need for revised terminology as well as new methods, due to new media and digital artifacts? How would those concepts or methods have to look like?

Is it possible to retain some notion of context despite the criticism that has been voiced, or does it presuppose conceptions in textual theory that are no longer tenable? How could the concept be replaced?

We encourage submissions from all language and literature departments as well as other fields within the humanities and social sciences that consider texts as their subject, such as philosophy, or history. Furthermore, we welcome submissions from fields that concentrate on other artifacts, but face similar challenges, such as media studies, history of art, or musicology.

Contributions should not exceed 50,000 characters in length and have to be submitted until January 1, 2014. Please submit your contribution electronically via our website under ›Articles‹.

Articles are chosen for publication by an international advisory board in a double-blind review process.

For further information about JLT and to view the submission guidelines, please visit or contact the editorial office at


JLT aims to publish work on fundamental issues in methodology and the construction of theories and concepts, as well as articles on particular literary theories. Case studies, i.e. studies on specific authors, works, or problems of literary history, are accepted only if they adopt a predominantly systematic perspective, contribute to the reconstruction of the history of literary theory, or pursue innovative methods. Moreover, the Journal of Literary Theory contains work reviewing and outlining trends of theoretical debates in literary theory and related disciplines.

Please contact the editorial office for further details.

Hannes Worthmann

Assistant Editor
JLT - Journal of Literary Theory
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Seminar für Deutsche Philologie
Käte-Hamburger-Weg 3
37073 Göttingen

0049 - (0)551 - 39 – 7534

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