CfP: Works in Networks. Relational Authorship in the 18th Century, Workshop (May 2017) & Conference (Nov 2017), Berlin

Authors do not make books. In his historico-cultural studies, Roger Chartier has repeatedly pointed out that authors in the 18th century did not write books, not even their own. Books are not written but made; they are not made by authors but by a complex network of publishers, typesetters, printers, and bookbinders. According to Chartier, authors only write texts that materialize into books when embedded within a larger socioeconomic context. But what if not only the published book but the author’s text itself were the result of complex social relations that could be described as networks? With this in mind, we would like to argue that authors do not make texts by themselves either.

In recent years the term “network” has been frequently deployed in literary studies of the 18th century. It serves as an analytical category to describe strategic and pragmatic aspects of the cooperation between literary agents or to capture the condensation and expansion of the communicational infrastructure during the Enlightenment. However, as a category, it operates metaphorically in these contexts or gets used reductively in quantitative surveys. However, only employing these forms of sociological network theory artificially limits the horizon of possibilities that networks present for the study of literature.

Particularly within qualitative network research, studies on 18th century literature have not yet provided many results, even though recent theories in the field of relational sociology would offer a powerful foundation for analysis. The assumption that relations and practices are prior to the seemingly stable social entities, such as the subjects and groups with which they are associated, appears to be a promising approach to questions about authorship in the 18th century. Our research interest concerns not only the question of how authors integrate their written texts in established media networks but how these texts emerge within the context of existing social relations in the first place. In this way, authorship can be seen as a collective creative process in which textuality appears as a bundle of social relations that always includes several agents—family, editors, friends, critics, or patrons. Previous examinations of relational authorship have focused on a particular case: the collaboration of a few agents with shared interests and intentions (e.g. literary groups). By contrast, our interest is broader. It is directed at forms of cooperation that are dispersed, diffuse, or perhaps even unwanted.

In a theory workshop to be held in Berlin on May 11-12, 2017, we will discuss previous research results on literary networks in the 18th century as well as central concepts of relational sociology. Participants in the workshop will receive a reader with relevant material and sufficient time to carefully read the texts. Each participant will be asked to give a short presentation (10 to 15 minutes) of one of the theoretical texts. The floor will then be opened to group discussion dedicated to theoretical and methodological questions as well as connections to the participants’ own research projects. The workshop will serve as preparation for a conference that will take place on November 16-18, 2017. The conference will be likewise concerned with historical studies of relational authorship and social textuality in the 18th century and will draw from the results of the workshop.

Organisation: Carlos Spoerhase, Erika Thomalla, Steffen Martus.

There are three spots available for both events. Please submit an abstract of your research project and a current CV to by February 28, 2017.


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