Reading Literary Institutions around 1900

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association 2023

To confront literary institutions means to confront paradoxes at every level. Institutionalization is the enemy of “real” literature and art, avant-gardists and critical theorists will tell you. Institutions standardize, constrain, and exclude while they assign value and invite critique. Conversely, there is no literature without institutionalization: it is only through institutional frameworks that we can communicate about literature as an observable phenomenon at all. And often, the fiercest critics of institutions are in turn the savviest institution-builders. From this perspective, the literary field around 1900 shows several remarkable transformations: the exponential growth of periodicals that publish literature; the unprecedented amount of a second-order discourse on literature with differentiated genres of criticism and promotion such as reviews and interviews; the foundation of national academies devoted to literature and the arts; the awarding of the first literary prizes; the gradual professionalization of literary criticism in universities; the growth of public libraries, which prompts questions of access, cataloging, storage, etc. Institutions thus not only assign symbolic value, they also encompass various architectural spaces such as the library, the salon, the office/study, or the settlement house. As recent scholarship has shown, at the turn of the twentieth century, spaces like these are promoted as social sites where knowledge about literature is produced and disseminated. Not least, publishing houses take on institutional functions in order to shape the aesthetic dispositions and social contours of an increasingly professionalized sphere of literature. Yet how do these institutional constellations become legible in literary studies? How do we read for institutions?

Balancing case studies ca. 1880-1920 and methodological considerations, this seminar will explore aspects of institutional self-presentation in various discursive, visual, and material modes. It aims to generate transnational conversations stretching across literary sociology, media history, and literary criticism. We invite papers focusing on the following key concerns:

    • modes of institutional inclusion and exclusion along intersectional identity categories
    • the emergence of race- and gender-based counter-institutions 
    • macro-theoretical perspectives on literary institutions (with and beyond Foucault, Bourdieu, and Jameson) and their methodological consequences 
    • legibility, accessibility, and biases of institutional archives and architectures 
    • the  aesthetic and social impact of textual, paratextual, and visual self-descriptions
    • realism, naturalism, early modernisms in their institutional entanglements
    • taste hierarchies and class hierarchiessingle works or genres and their relation to institutionality
    • single works or genres and their relation to institutionality

Please submit your abstract via the ACLA website: