Methodologies

Methodologies (not to be confused with methods, which we discuss on the next page) are linked to literary theories. Metholodologies are tools and lines of investigation: sets of practices and propositions about texts and the world. Researchers using Marxist literary criticism will adopt methodologies that seek to understand literature and its relationship to the world by looking to material forces like labor, ownership, and technology. These researchers will also seek to understand authors not as inspired geniuses but as people whose lives and work are shaped by social, economic, and historical forces.

Daniel Hartley, in his “Marxist Literary Criticism: An Introductory Reading Guide” (2018) describes some areas of inquiry and methodologies used by Marxist literary critics.

Example: Marxist Theory Methodologies

Areas of inquiry:

  • Anthropological: investigates the social functions of art
  • Political: investigates the link between literature and the political fortunes of classes and political systems such as capitalism and socialism
  • Ideological: investigates the link between literature and identity

Methodologies:

  • Genetic Structuralism: “Lucien Goldmann . . . examined the structure of literary texts to discover the degree to which it embodied the ‘world vision’ of the class to which the writer belonged. For Goldmann literary works are the product, not of individuals, but of the ‘transindividual mental structures’ of specific social groups. These ‘mental structures’ or ‘world visions’ are themselves understood as ideological constructions produced by specific historical conjunctures.”
  • Dialectical criticism: Emphasizes “reflexivity and totality: it stresses the way in which ‘the [critic’s] mind must deal with its own thought process just as much as with the material it works on’ (Fredric Jameson); it holds that literary works internalise social forms, situations and structures, yet simultaneously refuse them (thereby generating a critical negativity that resists vulgar economic or political reductionism); and it takes the mediated (not external or abstract) social totality as its ultimate critical purview.”

Jada, in her research about James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues,” uses both Marxist theory and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Below are some of the methodologies that CRT researchers use.

Example: Critical Race Theory Methodologies

Critical Race Theorists use a variety of methodologies, including

  • Interest convergence: investigating whether marginalized groups only achieve progress when dominant groups benefit as well
  • Intersectional theory: investigating how multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage around race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. operate together in complex ways
  • Radical critique of the law: investigating how the law has historically been used to marginalize particular groups, such as black people, while recognizing that legal efforts are important to achieve emancipation and civil rights
  • Social constructivism: investigating how race is socially constructed (rather than biologically grounded)
  • Standpoint epistemology: investigating how knowledge relates to individual experience and social position
  • Structural determinism: investigating how structures of thought and of organizations determine social outcomes

To identify appropriate methodologies, you will need to research your chosen theory and gather what methodologies are associated with it. For the most part, we can’t assume that there are “one size fits all” methodologies that cross all theories. The particular methodologies you choose will be related to a theory, and you should choose methodologies that are most relevant to your chosen literary work and your research question.


Exercises

  1. What methodologies will you be using for your paper? Why did you make this selection overs? If you haven’t made a selection yet, which methodologies are you considering?
  2. What specific concepts from the methodologies are you most interested in exploring in relation to your chosen literary work?
  3. What is your plan for researching your methodologies?
  4. What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?

Write your answers in a webcourse discussion page.

Go to the Discussion area and find the Methodologies Discussion. Participate in the discussion.


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