Literature and Society
The sociological interpretation of literature--artistic or popular--is not a favorite son of organized social science. Since the emancipation of the study of literature from the rigid research dicta and historically cogent laws of philology, almost everybody with a fair access to reading and writing feels entitled to offer historical, esthetic, and sociological criticism and generalization. The academic disciplines which have been traditionally charged with the history and analysis of literature have been caught unaware by the impact of mass literature, the best seller, the popular magazine, the comics and the like, and they have maintained an attitude of haughty indifference to the lower depths of imagination in print. A field and a challenge have thus been left open and the sociologist will have to do something about them.1
The following remarks, making no claim to systematization or comprehensiveness, are intended as an attempt to survey work done and to be done.
LITERATURE AND THE SOCIAL SYSTEM
The problems envisaged under this heading are twofold. The primary aspect is to place literature in a functional frame within each society and again within the various levels of stratification of that society. In certain primitive as well as in some culturally highly developed societies, literature is integrated into other social manifestations and is not clearly differentiated as an independent entity apart from ceremonials of cult and religion. It is rather an outlet of these institutions as, for example, tribal chants, early
The first published version of this chapter appeared as "The Sociology of Literature" in Communications in Modern Society, ed. Wilbur Schramm (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1948).____________________