Review Essay: The Socio-Analysis of Literary Texts as a Method of Qualitative Social Research, or: What Is the Reality in Fiction?

Maja Suderland


With his 1,200+ page study of Robert Musil's novel "The Man Without Qualities," Norbert Christian Wolf has produced a book which many may assume is "unreadable" on account of its enormous size alone. As a work of literary studies, it certainly runs the risk of being largely ignored by the social sciences. From a methodological perspective, however, there are good reasons to engage with this book: Not only does it contain a concise theoretical substantiation and methodological description of the socio-analysis of literary texts according to Pierre Bourdieu, it also demonstrates this method in detail on the corpus of the fictional characters in Musil's novel. In terms of literary studies, Wolf's book can therefore be viewed as a kind of encyclopedia for Musil's work; sociologically, it represents a nuanced socio-analysis of the "history of the calamities of the 20th century." Before looking at the methodological and methodical aspects of Wolf's study, this review essay presents some introductory thoughts on the use of literary works in the social sciences as well as a few cursory references to selected works which introduce or make use of this method themselves.



socio-analysis; literature; Bourdieu; Musil; 20th century


Copyright (c) 2013 Maja Suderland

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