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POETICS

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Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348


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The eighteenth-century literary field in Western Europe:


The interdependence of material and
symbolic production and consumption*
Kees van Reesa,*, Gillis J. Dorleijnb
o Department of Language and Literature, Tilburg University, P.O. Box 90153,
5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands
h Department of Dutch Language and Literature, Groningen University
9700 AS Groningen, The Netherlands

, P.O. Box 716,

Abstract
The papers of this special issue are introduced as instances of a field-theoretic approach as
articulated initially in Bourdieus institutional analysis of the literary field. This approach is
presented as a sound alternative to traditional literary history and its insufficiently relational
view of historiography and of the cultural object. In addition, it is situated critically with
respect to book history and previous institutional analyses in a historical perspective. It
focuses on the development of a literary field in eighteenth-century Western Europe, at a time
when the term literature meant something quite different from what it means nowadays. In
the cultural-sociological perspective advocated here, one must take account of the interdependency of material and symbolic production and consumption. Therefore, an approach is
needed which integrates institutional analysis with an examination of the impact of conceptions of literature, that is, sets of normative ideas on the nature and function of literature.
These conceptions affect the practices of all agents in the field, irrespective of whether they
focus on symbolic or material production, or even on consumption. 0 2001 Elsevier Science
B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Principles of research into the literary field


In his seminal article, entitled The field of cultural production,
or the economic
world reversed, Bourdieu (1983) defined the cultural field as the space of cultural

* We are indebted to Gert-Jan Johannes, John Mohr and Hugo Verdaasdonk for helpful critical comments on an earlier draft.
* Corresponding author. Phone +31 13 466 2666; E-mail: c.j.vrees@kub.nl
0304-422X/01/$ - see front matter 0 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: SO304-422X(00)00038-3

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K. van Rees, GJ. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

position takings (prises de position) that are possible in a given period in a given
society. The cultural field comprises the set of institutions or the group of agents
performing specific tasks in the production, distribution and promotion of symbolic
goods. At a given moment in time, the field constitutes the space of positions
constructed by these participating agents according to the trajectories they followed.
To analyze the cultural field of a given society, one has to address questions such as
the following :
- What are the institutions of the cultural field?
- How is each of these institutions organized and how do they operate in interaction
with each other?
- How is the cultural field embedded in wider social systems and how is it affected
by these systems?
In answering these questions one must take into account the impact of conceptions
of art, literature and culture as these are used by members of institutions not only to
plan their actions but also to justify or rationalize their decisions. In any period,
agents in the cultural field draw on a specific normative conception to induce among
other members of that society a specific perception and evaluation of cultural goods
and practices.
A Bourdieuan-inspired analysis of the cultural field as a field of forces is guided
by two assumptions: (i) material production and symbolic production are interdependent and simultaneous processes; (ii) consumption of cultural goods is affected
by this interdependence and, in its turn, affects production (see also DiMaggio,
1987). One of the implications for cultural sociology is that the production of symbolic goods must be viewed as a collective action involving, besides the creator, all
creators of the creator, that is, the agents producing belief in the value of the goods
in question. Hence, the cultural field is also described as a world of belief (Bourdieu,
1977, 1980: 207ff.). This constructionist view implies that through their struggles,
conflicts and apparently peaceful interactions, the parties involved not only assign
values to cultural products but also reproduce the belief in the value of what is at
stake, the belief in the legitimacy of the agents actions and the belief in the truthfulness of their discourse.
Challenged by this theoretical framework, quite a few researchers set themselves
the task of developing and testing it by examining specific relationships of symbolic
power within the field of their choice. In analyzing the functioning of institutions
which constitute the cultural field or one of its sub-fields, they started to take
account of the cultural fields being embedded within the field of power, situated
itself in what Bourdieu calls the field of class relations.

It was not by chance that many of these studies appeared in this Journal. Its new subtitle, Journal of
empirical research on literature, the media and the arts (added in 1989), underscored a shift in focus that
had been underway since the early 1980s. The publication of Bourdieus (1983) article and its positioning as the institutional approach to the literary field (Van Rees, 1983: 290ff.) attested to this.

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One such a subfield is the literary field , the set of literary institutions, organizations and agents involved in the material and symbolic production and in the distribution of reading materials So far, a large number of studies have been devoted to
the contemporary, that is, late twentieth-century, literary fields, for the most part in
Europe and North America. 2 These studies focus on the operation of each of the
institutions depicted in Fig. 1 and on the relations between these institutions.3

Fig. 1. Diagram of the twentieth-century

literary field.

* For China see Hock (1998, 1999).


3 Fig. 1 is a model of a particular historical situation: Western Europe during the late twentieth century. It disregards the important issue of how this subfield is embedded in the field of power relations.
However, it may illustrate the different parties that are at stake and their interactions, and may incite students of other cultural and historical settings to specify the agents relevant to their domain.

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K. van Rees, G J. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

Disregarding areas other than literature and irrespective of whether or not Bourdieu
is explicitly mentioned as a source or reference point, we call to mind studies which
illustrate the relational perspective on the production and consumption of literature.
Unlike most students of the humanities, who adopt an essentialist view of the work of
art and claim that their expertise permits them to lay bare a works intrinsic properties, empirical researchers have argued that, in addition to writers position-takings,
literary works owe their status, percived value and ranking to the interaction between
many other agents: in the first place, agents of symbolic production such as critics,
teachers, magazine editors, juries; secondly, agents of material production (publishers, chains of book stores, book clubs). Under particular institutional constraints,
these agents reports on their encounters with particular works, their comments on the
emergent properties they notice in their encounters are orchestrated in a consensus on
how, for a given period, works are perceived and the status which is assigned to them.
A relational analysis permits better understanding of how a broad range of institutional factors affect practices peculiar to each of these agents. One of the aims of this
research is to gain a better understanding of the production of symbolic value, that
is, the assignment of properties and quality to literary works, their classification and
ranking. Another related focal point is to understand how the processes of material
and symbolic production are interdependent. What is perceived as a products quality is thereby shown to be connected with quality dimensions of material producers
(prestige of publishing houses), of distributors (elite book shop vs. popular bookclub), symbolic agents (authoritative critics and periodicals of standing which publish their reviews) rather than with allegedly intrinsic properties of the work under
study. Even though researchers may focus on one of the slots in Fig. 1, their relationist viewpoint induces them also to pay attention to its relations with other slots.
Writers: Segmentation of the literary field (Gerhards and Anheier, 1989); social networks and the classification of literary authors (Anheier and Gerhards, 1991a,b; de
Nooy, 1991); literary prizes (de Nooy, 1988, 1989); reward systems (Rosengren,
1998); writers sideline activities (Janssen, 1998).
Publishers: Literary programs of publishing houses (Verdaasdonk, 1985; de Glas,
1998; Tilborghs, 1991); images of the audience in publishing childrens books
(Turow, 1982).
Distributors: Public library (Seegers and Verdaasdonk, 1987; Seegers, 1989;
Schuur and Seegers, 1989); bookstores and buyers of books (Stokmans and Hendrickx, 1994).
Literary magazines: Literary magazines and their readership (Verdaasdonk, 1989).
Reviewing and criticism: Reviewers frame of reference (Rosengren, 1983, 1987);
critics selection and consensus formation (van Rees, 1987; Janssen, 1997, 1999);
the effect of critical attention on authors careers (Barker-Nuns and Fine, 1998; van
Dijk, 1999; van Rees and Vermunt, 1996); effects of acquired readership and
reviewers attention on the sales of new literary works (Verdaasdonk, 1988).
Canon formation, identity and multiculturalism: literary canon and identity (Corse,
1997; Bryson, 2000); cross-cultural literary transmission (Griswold and Bastian,
1987).

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335

Readers

attitudes and behavior: choice behavior toward books (Duijx et al., 1991;
Leemans and Stokmans, 1991; Seegers and de Jong, 1988; Stokmans, 1999;
Kraaykamp and Dijkstra, 1999).4

Fewer in number are studies which adopt a historical perspective on the development of the literary field in Western Europe. As yet literary historians have sporadically undertaken that task. Several factors appear to prevent. them from putting this
research on their agenda. In a general way, literary historians professional orientation accounts for their lack of production of relational studies in a historical perspective. Since the start of their professionalisation, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, historians of literature have concentrated on writers and their works.
They see the dissemination of humanism and cultural tradition. as their primary goal,
(cf. Laan, 1997). Despite debates between adherents of different approaches in historiography and literary analysis, literary historians have been less inclined to inquire
into the assumptions and premises underlying their literary-critical involvement in
symbolic production. In interpreting, evaluating and ranking literary works, they
practice at an object level what, in an empirical-theoretical perspective, they are supposed to analyze at a meta-level. In preferring the role of agent of symbolic production to that of analist of this process, their reflection on principles underlying a relational mode of analysis is almost nil. Departments of literature remained fairly
closed to developments in other disciplines.5 This explains how an essentialist mode
of thought could be transmitted from generation to generation and prevail until
today. It leaves most historians of literature ill-equipped to take account of the
social, cultural, economic and technological conditions that affect the material and
symbolic production of reading materials and their consumption. By the way they
define their profession, literary historians tend to overvalue the reliability and validity of their views on the nature of literary works and to undervalue the normative status of their theoretical claims. However, critique on these points should not detract
from the fact that these agents attribution of properties and values to literary works
proves to be socially effective since other agents in the field, including non-professional readers - through schooling and literature education - reproduce these normative views.
The brief overview of publications on the contemporary literary field might convey the impression that the empirical theory of the literary field is ahistorical. Such
an impression would be incorrect, as the empirical sociology of the cultural field is
premised on the belief: no sociology without history, no history without sociology.
The dynamic view of the field, and the key role reserved in the analysis for concepts
such as trajectory, and positition-taking - each presupposing a history - are

4 From this enumeration were excluded studies aimed at interpreting a single literary work as an exemplary position-taking by its author. We return to this below in briefly discussing Bourdieu (1992).
5 Graff (1987) argues that literature departments are compartmentalized by historical and generic topics, each of which is the responsibility of a faculty member; new topics are covered by a new faculty.
Changes in the university job market since the early 198Os, long before Graffs publication appeared,
force graduates from Departments of English to search for new outlets.

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incompatible with such an a-historical idea. Studies of the field of art are bound to
fail if they neglect its history, and the evolution of symbolic power relations. Yet,
studies in a historical perspective are rather scarce. In the mid-1960s, Bourdieu paid
attention to historical aspects, e.g., to the issue of how the cultural and literary field
came into existence (Bourdieu, 1966, 1971). During the 1970s a number of
researchers started to develop an institutional perspective on the literary field in
nineteenth-century France (Bourdieu, 1992; Dubois, 1978; Ponton, 1975). Bourdieus articles on this topic were collected in Bourdieu (1992).
Although of major interest heuristically, most of these studies fall short of hypothesis testing. This also holds for Bourdieu (1992). To our mind, the first part of the
book (1992: 17-165), on Flauberts novel Lkducation sentimentale, is biased by a
hermeneutic presumption that the universe of the novel can be dealt with as if it were
the universe in which Flaubert lived, and that Flaubert, as an institutional sociologist
of art avant-la-lettre, manages to entertain a relationship - albeit a negative one with the totality of the literary universe in which he is inscribed. He functions in it
and, at the same time, he takes into account all of its contradictions, difficulties and
problems (1992: 145). This entails unjustifiable shifts in research perspective, from
a meta-level position to the object-level of subjective interpretation. This hermeneutic overtone may at the same time explain the wide acclaim this book received from
humanistic scholars.
We do not wish to imply by this critique that literary works have to be excluded
from relational analysis. For their inclusion, however, another approach is needed
which raises questions radically different from those of hermeneuticians. The interpretation of a work by critics or writers is first of all just an interpretative viewpoint.
Further questions must then be raised in relation to symbolic production: to what
extent this viewpoint plays a role in the process of consensus formation; whether or
not it shapes the viewpoints of other agents and of common readers, etc. Data are
needed on material and symbolic production, not only on the material conditions of
the social environment but also on the historically specific, institutional settings in
which new ideas are produced and disseminated. Instead of merely focusing on the
relative autonomy of the literary field, greater attention must be paid to the ways in
which the literary field is embedded in the cultural field and is connected with social
structure. These data will have to be developed with the help of sophisticated relational research methods. Mohr (1998) provides an overview of research in which
institutional (instead of individual) meanings (of texts, statements and cultural practices) are analyzed with the help of structural-interpretative approaches. Thereby the
focus is no longer on the content per se of statements, since that can be regarded as
arbitrary. The investigation aims at identifying structural principles underlying the
organisation of relational patterns in a complex. Mohr mentions various quantitative
procedures permitting the reduction of the complexity of meanings to more simple
structural principles. In his editorial for a recent special issue on Relational analysis
and institutional meanings (Poetics 28/2-3), Mohr (2000a: 58) states as goal of
relational analysis (1) to map out the pattern of relations which link cultural elements together as either similar or different and, (2) to analyze the resulting pattern
in such a way as to be able to discern the deeper organizing principles that generate

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meaning structures. (Th e six papers included in that special issue illustrate this
style of research,) Mohr (2000b) argues that even though Bourdieu counts among the
most eloquent theoretical advocates of the duality of meaning and practice, his
research practices often suppose the existence of linear relationships between dependent and independent variables and, therefore, are far less relational than his theoretical statements would seem to suggest.
With regard to the institutionally oriented historians who focus on the nineteenthcentury literary field, one can agree with Bourdieu and his collaborators, that in the
second half of the nineteenth century a relatively autonomous (modern) literary field
came into existence. However, two qualifications must be taken into account in
endorsing this conclusion. First, the analysis of the interactions in this field has to be
improved and further evidence should be obtained. Second, although arguments
about the alleged autonomy of the work may have been forceful enough to produce
a new view on the nature of literature, for sociologists of literature they can never
excuse abandoning principles of relational analysis and endorsing the far-reaching
conclusion that the literary field itself would have become autonomous: it never
was, and is unlikely to ever become, autonomous. For literary historians this observation opens wide research perspectives.
Without explicitly disputing the suggestion of growing autonomy in the nineteenth century, Viala (1985) appears to take exception to this privilege of the nineteenth-century literary field. (See also Viala and Saint-Jacques, 1994; Viala, 1997.)
In his study of seventeenth-century literary institutions, also in France, Viala documents the birth of modern authorship in that century by paying close attention to
the role of institutions in the production, distribution and evaluation of literature. He
argues that membership of literary or cultural academies, clientelism, patronage, and
the response of the elite audience to literary works, in spite of condemnation of this
by academic judges, affected the status of writers in this stratified and centralized
nation-state.
Earlier studies by Williams (1958, 1961) - although not phrased in field-theoretical terms - cover related issues (regarding writers recruitment and status, and the
role of education, literacy, the popular press, and standard English) which are relevant to the analysis of how a common cultural and literary field emerged in England.
In early eighteenth-century England, Grub Street constituted the first modem
community of interest of a large class of hacks and enterprising publishers (Rogers,
1972). In the emerging discipline of book history, several studies, such as those by
Altick (1963), Eisenstein (1983) and Keman (1989), provide a welcome counterbalance against reductionist views current in literary histories. An excellent study of
changes in the cultural field in Western Europe between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century is given in Wuthnow (1989). It focuses on the complex relationship
between ideology and social structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and
European Socialism. That the literary field holds only a marginal place in this book
should not prevent students of the literary field from using its rich conceptual framework (see, e.g., the brief overview in Wuthnow, 1989: 537-558). In analyzing what
he calls the multifactoral or conjunctoral conditions under which specific episodes
of cultural innovation have (...) arisen (1989: 577), one has to pay special attention

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to the specific institutional contexts in which ideologies were produced, disseminated, and authorized, since these contexts provide the critical mediating connection
between shifts in environmental conditions and changes in ideology(1989: 546).
Compared to the nation-states France and England, eighteenth-century Germany
was a concept rather than an entity, as it consisted of a great number of kingdoms
and city-states, each driven by its own considerations of political and cultural
identity. But, as in France and Britain, the existence of one language was a unifying
factor. Schmidts study Die Selbstorganisation des Sozialsystems Literatur im 18.
Jahrhundert (Schmidt, 1989) discusses the Ausdifferenzierung and Autonomisierung
of the literary system in eighteenth-century Germany from a perspective that
attempts to connect Luhmanns system theory with radical constructivism. In the
second half of the eighteenth century, Schmidt argues, Germany was caught up in a
historical transition from pre-modem to modem literature. In addition to the emergence of economic, political, scientific and educational systems, Germany saw the
birth of a literary system (as a subsystem of the arts system) in which various agents
(producers-authors, mediators-magazine editors, recipients-critics) performed specific roles which were recognized on all sides as being legitimate.
One may wonder whether, and to what extent, a system-theoretical approach is
similar to and compatible with field theory. In a panel discussion including Bourdieu
and Schmidt as participants, closing the 1989 IGEL conference, Schmidt spoke of a
close relationship between system and field, while Bourdieu distanced himself
from the systems approach (Bourdieu et al., 1992: 432-439; see also Schmidt,
1997). The main reasons Bourdieu adduced were the organistic philosophy of society underlying the systems approach and the priority given to the development of
static theoretical and methodological frameworks over empirical hypotheses testing.
Unlike field theory, the organistic philosophy precludes system theoreticians,
according to Bourdieu, from taking account of the part played by chance, by interest, by struggles, by the plays of power, violence, capital (ibid., 437). So far, no
empirical analyses phrased in both systems-theoretical and field-theorical terms can
be compared with each other, as systems theoreticians are reluctant to develop
empirical models and put these to the test in empirical research (cf. van Rees, 1997;
Verdaasdonk, 1997).

2. Conceptions of literature and their impact in the literary field


What unites the authors included in this issue is, first of all, a common object of
research, that is, the development of the literary field in Western Europe during the
eighteenth century. Three authors (De Kruif, Johannes and Salman) share a common
focus on the Dutch literary field at the time of the Republic, and they report on
research developed in the framework of one and the same research program, Conceptions of literature and their impact in the literary field.6 One of the aims of this
6 This program, consisting of sixteen postdoc and graduate projects, is funded since 1994 by the Dutch
Science Foundation (NWO) and coordinated by the present guest-editors (cf. Van Rees and Dorleijn

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339

program is to inquire into the conditions underlying the emergence of specialized


institutions leading gradually to the formation of the literary field and to answer the
related question of how views on the nature of literature have changed over time and
have affected the operation of literary institutions.
To introduce these papers, we believe that it would be useful to comment briefly
on two notions which are central to the program and relevant to this issue: institutional context and conception of literature, both in their relationship to the analysis
of the literary field. Heuristically, Vialas (1985) and Bourdieus (1992) lines of reasoning and conclusions are of interest to historical research on other countries. But,
as it appears from the articles in this issue, results obtained in research on one
nation-state cannot easily be transposed to another. The participants in the program
have become aware that findings about the twentieth-century literary field cannot be
projected easily onto historical periods, since the institutional context from which literature derives its meaning undergoes continuous changes over time. Features that
are held to be characteristic of the French literary field in the era of print revolution
need not be similar in England or Germany, let alone the Dutch Republic. Differences in structure from one society to another prevent one from concluding that the
production and consumption of cultural goods such as books develop at a similar
pace in neighboring countries (not to mention in different continents). Not only does
the pace at which ideas and organisations from one country are assimilated (and subsequently transformed) in other countries vary; but the way in which a cultural field
is embedded in the field of power and in that of class relations (Bourdieu, 1983:
319ff.) also varies depending on the distribution of power and the organisation of
class relations in a nation-state. While political censorship severely constrains publishers freedom in one country (e.g., France), it may give a boost to publishing in
neighboring countries (Switzerland, the Dutch Republic) (cf. Darnton and Roche,
1989). Constraints on the freedom of the press, if only by taxes on newspapers, prevent the rapid spread of reading habits which became possible in the course of the
nineteenth century. This invalidates expectations of linear growth.
Likewise, the number of inhabitants in a language area is of fundamental importance to the viability of magazines as new outlets for writers and critics and as new
means of acculturation for potential buyers, as Johannes contribution shows with
regard to the Dutch market. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, some 125
years after the shift from script to print, books were still an uncommon cultural good.
Book-historical studies refute the assumption that after about 1500 Western European countries already became, and remained, a print society in which printed materials pervaded social life. Referring to these studies, Keman argues that it was not
until about 1700 that printing began to affect the structure of social life at every
level (1989: 48). Data on book and magazine production in England, France and

1993; Dorleijn and van Rees, 1999). Most of the researchers who implement the program are concerned
with a time period before the 20th century, somewhere between the beginning of our em and 1900. Six
projects focus on countries other than the Netherlands: France, England, Russia, Poland, India and
Ancient Rome. Discussions among participants enhance their awareness of structural differences
between one society and another, between one period and another.

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K. van Rees, GJ. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

Germany provide sufficient ground for the assumption that the eighteenth century
marks a period of important increase in book and magazine production, even though
the major breakthrough dates from the nineteenth century. The authors included here
are eager to improve our understanding of this expansion of the book trade. With
regard to the increase in literacy, which is ususally presented as a direct consequence
of the print revolution, they share an empirically based skepticism about widespread
book-historical ideas such as the reader revolution(cf. Engelsing, 1974).
As indicated, in analyzing the literary or cultural field in a relational perspective,
one has to take note of the impact of conceptions of literature or culture applied by
members of institutions and consumers alike. A conception of literature (CL) may
be defined as set of mostly normative ideas and arguments on the nature and function of literature, on literary techniques and their alleged effects on readers. These
ideas serve, in the first place, to dress the symbolic agents discourse on the
allegedly intrinsic properties of literary works. The notion of CL is mostly used in
literary studies to refer to poetical treatises (Aristotles Poetics; Horaces Epistulu
ad Phones, Sydneys Defense of Poetry), programmatic manifestos (by an author, a
group of writers, or a critic) and the like. The doctrine of lart pour Zart, which
holds a central place in Bourdieus (1992) analysis, is an example of an influential
nineteenth-century conception of literature. Over time, poetical treatises helped to
shape the thought style of a period and had a strong effect on the classification and
ranking of literary works, and on the assignment of the properties to which literary
works are believed to owe their status. It is, therefore, understood that literary scholars ought to pay these treatises special attention. Because of these treatises normative nature, this research will benefit from dealing with them as literary ideologies
rather than as theories containing the truth in litteris.
A considerable advance could also be made by taking into account the use of CLs
by other actors in the literary field. In addition to writers and critics, agents such as
publishers, booksellers, teachers, members of literary societies, and magazine editors
draw on CLs to verbalize their decisions and to justify their actions, for example,
when they classify new or existent reading materials, recommend these to groups of
users, and suggest specific ways of dealing with these works. True, their ideas may
be less elaborate than those of writers and critics. Even when they seem directly
inspired by the latters claims, they may be tinged by principles of action and appreciation that are peculiar to the institutional context in which these agents operate. As
members of a particular institution (school, bookshop, public library, publishing
house), they have practical knowledge of how their instititution is positioned in the
field, and how its operation is constrained by its relationship with other institutions.
By identifying agents other than writers and critics as users of CLs, we must not
be understood to mean that these actors are consulting a copy of the contemporary
dominant treatise on literature to see whether their plans comply with its norms. CLs
are not these actors basis for grounded decisions. However, we contend that their
implicit knowledge of symbolic production, including the role played by CLs, is an
important dimension of their practice, and taking it into account advances institutional analysis of the literary field. The same goes for critics and other agents of
symbolic action: knowledge of the process of material production, even though it is

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not made explicit by them, is a consequential dimension of their practice. For example, a reviewers decision on whether or not to pay attention to a new title involves
the reviewers awareness that the author belongs to a prestigious publishing house
and that colleagues in top-periodicals paid attention to a previous title by the same
author.
Thus, for contemporary and historical publishers, agents of material production,
CLs may play a role in deciding whether or not to start a new book genre or expand
the function of an existing one, as appears from Benedicts paper on literary anthologies. Irrespective of the period, estimates of a products profitability are shown to be
made in light of publishers basic knowledge of the field, of the position of competitors, of hunches about which literary experiences appear to be preferred by consumers. In modern times, considerations may be also based on knowledge of former
sales, critical response to previous publications either in book form or in literary
magazines, positions taken by writers, how fashionable a particular genre is, and
how the themes fit in the spectrum of readers interests. Apart from former sales, all
these considerations are aspects of symbolic production and directly related to the
use of CLs. As new titles are brought on the market, publishers draw on well-known
ideas from current CLs about the educational function of literature; their knowledge
of the cultural field, for example, of how it is related to other fields (e.g., education,
religion), may be applied in formulating advertisements, a means of communication
used already in the eighteenth century to position titles as part of the book supply
and bring them to the attention of potential book buyers, as Salman shows in his contribution. Clearly, practices of this kind, which one may tend to associate mainly
with the modern literary field, already occurred in the eighteenth century.
Editors of literary magazines and, more recently, of a newspapers book section
have recourse to their knowledge of the writers market, including the competition
among contemporary conceptions of literature, when deciding whether or not to pay
attention to a new title, e.g., by publishing poems, an essay or story in the magazine;
in the case of the newspaper, by having the book reviewed or by arranging an interview with its author. When awarding a literary prize or a stipend to a literary author,
members of the jury or of the board of the endowment fund consider a variety of
similar factors which have bearing on the nominees careers, that is, not only the
positions they take but also the response of other agents in the field towards them,
even readers response. Economically, these kinds of decisions are usually less consequential than those of a publisher who brings out a number of titles yearly, a large
percentage of which do not attract numerous readers.
To better understand processes going on in the literary field, an approach is
needed which integrates institutional analysis with an examination of how CLs are
developed and applied. Only such an integrated approach permits clarification of
how literary institutions think, that is, how their operation determines the categories chosen by members of a society in order to classify and deal with cultural
products. In studying the literary field of a given era and society, this implies
answering questions such as the following: Which conceptions of literature have
been developed? Which ones appear to dominate the others? What consequences
does this domination have for book production and consumption? How do members

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of various institutions use them? Thus, one can begin to explain how a framework
of literary thought, peculiar to the relevant set of institutions, constructs the literary
thought styles which affect that literary worlds experiences (cf. Douglas, 1986: 43).

3. The eighteenth-century

literary field

The historical research that was briefly discussed in the foregoing sections suggests that, during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century, a literary field
came into existence in various countries in Western Europe. The scheme of the eighteenth-century literary field, shown in Fig. 2, draws heavily on the analogy with Fig.
1. With regard to most slots we only have scanty knowledge. The contributions
included here aim at improving (our view of) this map so as to make it better fit
eighteenth-century reality. An important difference with the twentieth-century literary field must be considered at the outset. In the premodem era, the term literature
meant something quite different from what it means in the modem period. Jn referring to the contemporary configuration of institutions and agents involved in the production of reading materials in terms of the literary field, one must be aware that
only gradually did literature, literary and cognate terms become more restricted in
sense and receive the meaning commonly attached to them today. In the eighteenth
century, a literate and cultured person was someone who knew a lot about the arts
and literature; the latter term referred to a broad range of subjects on which books
had been published, including a growing range of titles for which we still use the
term. As a matter of course, the institutional setting of the literary field is constantly
changing. In the eighteenth century, producers of reading materials combined the
functions of publisher, printer, bookseller. As appears from Johannes contribution,
it took a long time for Dutch magazines to become commercially viable. As reviewing in newspapers did not start until the late nineteenth century, literary critics were
dependent on other outlets, notably magazines, to publish their reviews. New players (e.g., authors, publishers or critics) tried to acquire status; they grew in number
as book buying became less confined to the elite. For the Netherlands at least, this
appears to have been the case only in the course of the nineteenth century and hardly
at all in the eighteenth century. The structure of the field is permanently affected by
field-external but related factors of various nature: political (stamp act), ideological
(religion), technical (power press, rotary press), economical (advertising industrial
products), social (education promoting literacy), and demographic.
As indicated, three contributions by participants in the Dutch program cover
roughly the same period (the second half of the eighteenth century and the early
decades of the nineteenth century) and the same area (The Netherlands). They study
the book trade, especially the publisher as an institution, and use qualitative and
quantitative data on book (or magazine) production, distribution and reading in order
to answer specific research questions. Though not a part of the program, another
invited contribution on literary anthologies (Benedict) is also related in period and in
approach. Finally, the author of Die Selbstorganisation des Sozialsystems Literatur
im 18. Jahrhundert, Schmidt, considers the constructivist position in historiography.

343

K. van Rees, G.J. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

3
2

READING PUBLIC

(.

Fig. 2. Diagram of the eighteenth-century literary field (l), embedded in the cultural field (2)
including art, religion, etc. which is itself situated within social structure (3).

Market size appeared to have been an obstacle for the development of Dutch culture in general during the second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century. Here, expansion and growth, specialisation, differentiation and
autonomization of the different cultural fields lagged behind other European countries with a larger language area (England, France, Germany). Johannes paper
focuses on a number of limitations on the formation of cultural infrastructures set by
the restrictions imposed by a minor linguistic community. Many attempts were made
to found specialist periodicals, and in several domains there were also endeavors to
establish magazines aiming at a general audience, however, without much success. It

344

K. van Rees, G.J. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

was not until 1850 that several competing journals - both specialised and general succeeded in positioning themselves on the market. For the major language areas,
this stage had been reached as early as 1775. It is argued that socio-economical constraints connected with the small size of the country can explain the lag of the modernization process in the Netherlands.
Both de Kruif and Benedict correct unwarranted socio-cultural claims, like
Engelsings on the reading revolution, prodding us into more precise empirical
research. During the second half of the eighteenth century, title production and genre
differentiation increased. To explain these changes in supply, researchers make an
untested assumption of an increasing consumer demand, due to a developing middle
class. Of course, much depends on how middle class is operationalized; in much
bookhistorical research this remains under-specified. De Kruif uses data gathered
from probate inventories and her sample consists of five burial classes, according to
the burial impost payed by each testator. She shows that bookhistorical assumptions
are not well founded. One cannot conclude from an increase in production that the
market of buyers was also growing. In the Dutch case, stagnation in demand, instead
of increase, appears to be the explanatory factor. Another correction concerns the
middle class thesis; contrary to expectations, the increase in book possession in the
first half of the eighteenth century appears to be due to lower classes, who bought
religious books (bibles, hymn and church books), and to the elite, that is, in de
Kruifs case, the two highest burial classes. What is more, de Kruifs research qualifies the assumedly tight relationship between socio-economic status and book possession. In the case studied, religious persuasion appears to be a more relevant variable than socio-economic status. Possession of new book genres such as travel
stories and novels, usually associated with middle class, does not manifest a strong
link with this class in the Hague, that is, people belonging to burial classes 3 and 4:
these genres were nearly exclusively in the possession of the elite.
Just like today, eighteenth-century publishers and booksellers pursued economic
profit and worked out all kinds of schemes to reach their targets: all presses had to
be kept going. As De Kruif shows, one of those strategies was differentiation of supply. A more specific publisher strategy, examined by Benedict, consisted of the
exploration and development of a relatively new book genre, the literary anthology.
A large set of early modem anthologies is analyzed with special regard to their production, packaging, format and contents. It is hypothesized that through the strategic
use of this book genre publishers managed not only to widen the circle of readers,
and to change their views of literature and their experiences with literature, but also
to entice readers into allowing them to assume the role of expert in aesthetic matters.
We believe that these claims about aesthetic expertise, by publishers like Lintot,
Tonson or Dodsley or by author-critics like Pope or Johnson, derive from a conception of literature that, in England, was relatively new for its time; perhaps less so in
France. Regardless, most of the claims in question appear to be ideological and
rhetorical, in the sense that one is supposed to take for granted the tacit premises
and normative assumptions about the nature of an artefact (e.g., the nature of poetry,
its beauty, its positive effect on consumers who are qualified to enjoy its qualities).
In hindsight, the agents mentioned have been successful in that they managed to

K. van Rees, G.J. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

345

gradually acquire enough authority to make those claims. And it is plausible to


assume that, through these claims, a new cultural reality was created in eighteenthcentury England that began to affect the mindset of a growing cultural elite. By the
way publishers exploited the genre of the literary anthology, they probably attempted
to stimulate new attitudes and new beliefs among their potential book buyers. In trying to allure potential buyers to become actual buyers, they flattered them in various
ways, e.g., by arguing that their books would provide them with the means of
enhancing their cultural status. In terms of contemporary poetical treatises, readers
were supposed to pursue pleasure-cum-instruction. The literary anthology of the day
also invited readers to pursue cultural status: that of belonging to an elite that is
knowledgeable in litteris, acquainted with reading of quality and aesthetic beauty,
which in certain circles was becoming a value in itself.
Evidence for these claims about the positive effect of the reading of literary works
is abundantly available, for example, in literary anthologies. It appears more difficult
to empirically show the development of new attitudes among readers, let alone
changes in reading behavior as a consequence of the status-raising effect of the reading of literature. Meanwhile, in the field, symbolic producers were competing for the
authority to define good literature, the meaning of aesthetic, and its benefits. The
literary anthology appeared to be an adequate carrier of a new formula. Again, the
increase in the number of anthologies does not in itself warrant coming to the conclusion that this genre significantly inreased the number of actual readers in eighteenth-century England. Benedicts paper shows that publishers and booksellers carried out niche marketing activities with the intention of commercializing reading
behavior and expanding their market. What researchers need to obtain now are reliable data which give evidence of attitudinal and behavioral changes among readers.
Benedicts paper refers to a specific genre or rather format, aimed at a general,
supposedly elite readership. Salmans contribution deals with a specific audience
segment, children, directed at by publishers and booksellers. In their marketing
strategies (advertisement appears to have been an important tool), publishers were
driven by a mix of commercial interests and ideological motives. Comparative
observations are made about developments in Germany - an apparently larger language area with a broader market. However, it appears that in spite of the small
market, Dutch publishers were able to produce a substantial number of childrens
books.
The production and revitalization of the literary anthology in eighteenth-century
England was closely connected to publishers considerations about creating an audience. Constraints on consumption - for example, a restricted absolute amount of
potential consumers in the Netherlands until 1850 - affect conditions of production.
The gradual emergence of the premodem literary field in the eighteenth century is
connected with the development of both new CLs and new organisations of production and distribution. The spread of new ideas implying, for instance, the gradual
revision of the neo-classical genre hierarchy and an upgrading of the novel, depends
not only on the existence of a substratum of material production, that is, publishers
and printers producing, among other things, an increasing number of novels, but also
on a growing audience which endorses these ideas and is willing to spend time on

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K. van Rees, GJ. Dorleijn I Poetics 28 (2001) 331-348

reading these new products. The papers published in this issue may illustrate important tenets like the interdependence of cultural production and consumption, and the
extent to which cultural production and consumption are conditioned by socio-economic, political and religious factors. In many cultural-sociological studies, production and consumption are dealt with separately. Studies on material and symbolic
production tend to focus exclusively on production whereas those on consumption
and cultural participation focus mainly on consumption. As a matter of fact, production and consumption should be considered as the two faces of the same coin.

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