Reviewing as social practice: Institutional constraints on critics' attention for contemporary fiction

Susanne Janssen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

This article examines the activities of literary reviewers and the conditions under which they perform their task of judging recently published works of fiction. Reviewers and other members of the institution of criticism usually present their assessments as a highly personal matter, in which the intrinsic properties of the texts under consideration are focused on. To understand why this view is incorrect one must consider the choices and statements of reviewers in relation with the social environment in which they come about. Following a theoretical discussion of the institutional nature of critical choices and judgements, an empirical analysis is undertaken of the selection Dutch reviewers made from the supply of new fiction titles in the 1970s and 1990s. The findings show that reviewers tend to be on the safe side when dealing with recently published texts. In addition to the text itself, they take due note of extra-textual indicators of quality, such as the publishing house that marketed the title and, especially, the assessments of other critics. In doing so, they reduce the uncertainty as to which works deserve their attention. Hence, they reduce the risk of making the choices that might jeopardize their status as literary experts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-297
Number of pages23
JournalPoetics
Volume24
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1997

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