The aim of the program
The aim is to develop new interdisciplinary methods for analyzing the social uses of literature that avoid the reductive tendencies of traditional sociologies of literature. Actor-network theory, especially, offers a fruitful resource for investigating aesthetic attachments and offering richer and more nuanced accounts of how literature circulates in the world. Researchers engaged in distinct yet related projects will take their orientation from Rita Felski’s work, especially Uses of Literature, The Limits of Critique, and her current book on attachment, and her NLH volume on “New Sociologies of Literature,” to develop innovative forms of interaction between literature and the social sciences.

State of the Art at SDU
Since 2008 researchers at SDU have analyzed the social dimensions of literature in collaboration with national and international research networks. “Social dimensions of literature” refers to the many ways in which texts forge new connections, networks, and communities as they are appropriated by readers. Through these processes, texts influence and co-create readers’ social imaginaries, allowing them to recognize different forms of experience and attuning readers to new forms of sociality. As scholars engaged in interdisciplinary research we are conscious of methodological difficulties in tracing the social uses of literature. We by no means subscribe to the notion of the self-contained or autonomous literary text, yet are equally reluctant to see texts as mere illustrations or symptoms of political or historical forces. Research at SDU has made significant progress, but Felski’s presence and leadership will be invaluable in allowing us to develop more sophisticated and substantial accounts of the social lives of literature. The Niels Bohr professorship will thus generate highly innovative arguments and methodologies that will be of interest to scholars in the humanities and social sciences and resonate nationally and internationally.

The Niels Bohr Professorship
Felski’s program opens up new opportunities for researching the social dimensions of texts and draw its orientation from two of her recent books: Uses of Literature develops a “neo-phenomenology” of aesthetic experience by considering recognition, enchantment, shock, and knowledge. The Limits of Critique examines dominant forms of criticism that read literary works as either unwitting vehicles for transmitting coercive ideologies or heroic symbols of dissidence. Such frameworks, Felski contends, fail to provide adequate accounts of the qualities of art works, their varied uses and meanings, or the social relations in which they are embedded. She also draws on actor-network-theory (ANT) to develop an alternative model for thinking about the social lives of literature: the model of “society” is replaced by attention to specific networks, and art works are conceptualized as non-human actors that solicit the engagement of readers and viewers.

Felski’s recent work is thus driven by the desire to move literary studies away from negative aesthetics (with its accompanying language of critique, subversion, defamiliarization, etc.) toward relational ontologies. At SDU Felski will pursue this line of thought by developing a new paradigm of “attachment theory”. Drawing on a hermeneutic tradition that includes Ricæur, as well as affect theorists such as J. Elkins and J. Bennett, she will explore attachment as an affective, social, and philosophical category. ANT offers valuable tools for investigating the mechanisms by which we are drawn to specific art works without reducing the associations between texts and persons to nothing more than hierarchies of distinction or networks of power. Here there are also parallels to pragmatism and the work of James, Dewey, and Shusterman, which Felski’s studies will also engage. This research will be centered on three aspects of attachment: its affective force (how we become “attuned” to works of art); its philosophical implications (how ANT can help us grapple with the complexities of agency); and its social dimensions (how works of art create alliances among disparate actors).


Work Packages for Niels Bohr Professorship

These four work packages involve 20 current SDU faculty and creates positions for 3 Ph.D. students and 5 post docs (three of which will be hired as assistant professors in WP 1-3).

WP 1 – Art’s Work: Technologies of attachment

PI Rita Felski
What do works of art do? How do they entice us, enlist us, surprise us, seduce us? And what formal mechanisms, affective links, or social bonds are in play? This WP explores the “stickiness” of attachment and reflects on its affective, social, and material aspects. What does it mean to become attached to an art work? What mechanisms are in play? And how do these attachments speak to the social aspects of literature and its potential to engender recognition, empathy, or other forms of allegiance?

1 Ph.d. project: On the Complexities of Recognition as a Literary Concept. This dissertation will develop a dialogue between concepts of recognition in political theory and literary studies and consider the ways in which contemporary fiction represents and reflects on the complexities of recognition. (Occupied)

1 Assist. prof.: Dementia as a challenge to literature. This postdoc will make links between Felski’s work on recognition and attachment and the field of narrative medicine. How does literature represent a disease that takes away the patient’s memory, language, self, and to what extent is the much discussed concept of empathy a useful one? What technologies of attachment bind readers to these representations, and how do they relate to the health care system’s narratives about dementia? (Occupied)

The participants will focus on the following topics:
Niels Bohr Professor Rita Felski: Art and attachment
Professor Anne-Marie Mai: Contemporary networking literature/Work net literature
Professor Klaus Petersen: First like or never ever : Analyzing the emotional qualities of the term 'welfare state'
Professor Peter Simonsen: Demented literature: A new literary epidemic?
Associate Professor Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen: Attachment to literature and ethical change
Associate Professor Camilla Schwartz: Love in late capitalist society
Associate Professor Jon Helt Haarder: Using the Ghetto, Use in the Ghetto. Literary History of Danish "Slums in the Sky"
Associate Professor Moritz Schramm: Perpetrator fiction: Attachment and recognition in contemporary novels on WW2
Assistant Professor Alastair Morrison: Surrogate speakers: Dementia narrative and the third person
PhD Student Marie-Elisabeth Lei Holm: Social dimensions of literary recognition


WP 2 – Literature and the social - New literary history and ANT

PI Anne-Marie Mai
Actor-network-theory offers a promising framework through which to rethink categories of literary history. The widening of the themes and functions of literature since World War II has opened new relations to culture, science and society. We need to recognize not only the effects of large-scale history on literature, but also how texts interact with the world around them, transmitting but also reshaping ideas and dispositions, uniquely engaged both as effect and as cause. This recognition is especially timely as literature is becoming ever more imbricated with other artistic and popular media, and with the sciences. Based on selected works of recent European and American literature, the project will examine how ANT can contribute to post-national and cross-media literary historiography, emphasizing the entanglement of literature with other salient networks.

1 Ph.D. project: Literary works as actors – a new approach to literary studies. Thiscomparative project will examine how contemporary literary works are engaged in a variety of literary, scientific, political and cultural negotiations and in what sense they can be conceived as actors. (Occupied) 

1 Assist. prof.: Literature and narrative medicine. Often narrative medicine is based on a traditional hermeneutical view of literature. The project will examine how Felski’s ideas about the uses of literature and the relevance of ANT to literary studies can renew narrative medicine. (Occupied)

The participants will focus on the following topics:
Professor Anne-Marie Mai: Contemporary networking literature / Work net literature
Associate Professor Camilla Schwartz: Love in late capitalist society
Associate Professor Jon Helt Haarder: Using the Ghetto, Use in the Ghetto. Literary History of Danish "Slums in the Sky"
Associate Professor Lars Handesten: Literary institutions and networks in Denmark
Assistant Professor Anders Juhl Rasmussen:What is the use of literature in medicine?
Assistant Professor Anita Wohlmann: The Use of Metaphors in Literature and Medicine 
PhD Student Johanne Gormsen Schmidt: The art of insignificance. A literary strategy in contemporary Danish literature
PhD Student Sophy Kohler: Literary works as actors – a new approach to literary studies

WP 3 – Narratives of Use - Literature and precarious life

PI Peter Simonsen
This WP centers on the relationship between literature and a new social class that is emerging in Europe and globally: ’the precariat’. This term references people facing multiple insecurities concerning work, health, housing, social relations etc., who are suffering from rising inequalities associated with globalization and neoliberalism. This group has also caught the attention of contemporary authors of fiction, film makers, and producers of reality television. This WP will explore how narratives of the precariat circulate in social life, what kinds of recognition or misrecognition they engender, and what new attachments or forms of solidarity they make possible.

1 Ph.d. project: Literature, unemployment and precarious labour. The project studies contemporary novels about the unemployed or short term contract employed. What narrative strategies are used to convey such precarious lives, and how may these strategies inspire particular forms of empathy, recognition or attachment? (Occupied)

1 Assist. prof.: Recognizing the Precariat?: Narratives on Alcohol as Social Disease. The project analyzes and compares narratives about the precariat’s alcohol consumption offered by literary fictions, the media (reality television) and in public campaign material. How do these narratives recognize or misrecognize the precariat’s alcohol culture? (Occupied)

The participants will focus on teh following topics:
Professor Peter Simonsen: Precarious literature. The death of the welfare state in contemporary Danish and British fiction
Associate Professor Adam Paulsen: The naked and the dead: Refugees and precariousness in contemporary fiction and philosophy
Associate Professor Anette Søgaard Nielsen: Alcohol narratives in treatment
Associate Professor Moritz Schramm: Theories of recognition. On literature, theater and film dealing with the consequences of migration for the host-societies
Associate Professor Pernille Tanggaard Andersen: Vulnerability and the influence on health and well-being - the concept of recognition and the precarious life
Assistant Professor Emily Hogg: Recognizing the precariat: Narratives on alcohol as a social disease
PhD Student Mathies Græsborg Aarhus: Literature in solidarity: Precarious feelings in contemporary literature


WP 4: Studying links between the fictive and the non-fictive

PI: Professor Klaus Petersen
The overall aim of WP4 is cross-disciplinary fertilization between literary studies and narrative approaches to the social and the political. These approaches include: the ‘role of ideas’-literature in political science, conceptual history and welfare semantics. The focus will be on methodological innovation: How can literary methods qualify analyses of society in the broader sense? How do political ideas or social semantics evoke feelings of recognition, inclusion or justice? Why are some concepts and ideas “sticky” whereas others are soon forgotten?

Post.doc-project 1: Aligning literary analysis with new political history
The project will compare the approach of “literary analysis” with the German School of Neue Politikgeschichte and what V. Schmidt within the social sciences has labelled discursive institutionalism. These approaches share a focus on texts but conceptualize them in different ways (as actor, as communication, as path dependency). The project will have a theoretical-methodological focus aiming at developing cross-disciplinary frameworks for the analysis of “political” texts. (Occupied)

Post.doc-project 2: A literary analysis approach to welfare semantics
Combining literary analysis with social science methods, this project will analyze why some ideas/narratives/concepts become hegemonic and sticky and others do not. This has been a theoretical challenge to scholars studying the role of ideas and political semantics. Why do Scandinavians love the welfare state whereas “welfare” in the US context triggers negative images of dependency, un-deservingness, and even totalitarianism? (Occupied)

The participants will focus on the following topics:
Professor Klaus Petersen: The comparative and transnational history of the concept 'welfare state'
Professor Klaus Petersen and Professor Daniel Béland: The political language(s) of right wing populism
Professor Klaus Petersen and Docent Urban Lundberg: Lost. The cultural retrenchment of Scandinavian Social Democracy
Postdoc Bryan Yazell: Vagrant narratives: Governing the welfare subject in the US and Britain, 1880-1940
Postdoc Bryan Yazell: Speculative states: Globalization and welfare in fiction and popular culture
Postdoc Patrick Fessenbecker: Novels and ideas

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