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university of tampere: faculty of communication sciences: research: plural: research programmes:
Faculty of Communication SciencesUniversity of TampereFaculty of Communication Sciences

Making Sense in Literature and Social Life

Head of the programme - Professor Mari Hatavara
The broad interface between literary studies and social sciences has emerged as a fertile breeding ground for new theoretical insights and discoveries. The interpretive turn in social sciences has brought about a revived interest in the relevance and applicability of theoretical models developed within the field of literary studies (and in humanities at large) for explaining social change. At the same time, literary theorists have become increasingly aware of the socially constructed nature and pragmatic constraints of many classical concepts in poetics. The intellectually fruitful friction between literary theory and social sciences has led to a fundamental reconsideration of concepts such as metaphor, symbol and narrative.

Tampere-school literary studies combine a staunchly metatheoretical and interdisciplinary approach to narratology with a firm commitment to descriptive poetics. Within this purview, narrative-theoretical assumptions are constantly tested against live narrative and textual sources, literary, documentary, and intermedial; fictional as well as non-fictional; natural and unnatural alike. Besides mutual interaction and exchange of ideas, both literary and social science approaches share a common source of inspiration in the cognitive sciences. The problems of meaning-making and of making sense are crucial to both, with their focus on the cognitive operations that human beings employ for constructing, communicating and interpreting meanings, and for coming to terms with their own experience of the surrounding world. The study of symbolic and narrative construction provides tools for understanding and explaining cultural frames of knowledge as well as the changing and hitherto unanalyzed forms available for sense-making operations.

These problems also concern fictional minds, a classical topic in literary poetics. At the same time, we are dealing with historical, social, and communal minds, and with the interpretive efforts of human agents in fictional as well as actual worlds. Making sense of each other's reasons is a cornerstone of human social life. It involves attributing beliefs, desires and hopes in complex ways. Our capacity to do this is unique: we do not share it with animals or very young children. It is so deeply ingrained in the experience of our daily existence that we tend only to notice it, and its critical importance, when it is absent or impaired (like with aphasia or dementia). This remarkable ability is essentially a skill acquired by engaging in storytelling practices, which have been at the heart of human society throughout our history. They might be absolutely central for engendering important aspects of our social understanding.

This project deals mostly with literary, fictional texts.  Fictionality is understood as a rhetorical resource that is crucial to understanding memory, identity, and culture. Fictionality is viewed here not as something at a remove from reality but as a technique to interact with and change the world. The program also discusses actual cases of communication in every-day social situations, often with inherited challenges (physical or mental trauma), as we believe that the methodological toolkit provided by literary studies can prove fruitful for understanding real life situations and that this traversing of research corpora is mutually beneficial.

The genuinely interesting theoretical question involves the relationship between the mental, sense-making operations both within and outside the literary realm, in fictional worlds as well as in the actual one. Cognitively inspired theories maintain that natural, every-day story-telling situations also encompass fictional narratives and that our bodily experience modifies metaphorical meaning-making in poetry as well. At the same time, theoretical models based on the study of literary discourse have proven to possess strong explanatory power with regard to non-fictional or non-artistic texts like medical records, testimonials, or Facebook entries. We aim at analyzing texts with both literary and eminently non-literary origins in our effort to define the common grounds and idiosyncrasies of these practices.

The aim of the project is not merely theoretical or methodological exchange but also critical revision of our joint research corpora. In today’s media reality, social identity formation is becoming increasingly textual; whereas literature as an art form expands far beyond the traditional (private) book form all the way to social media. It is evident that in order to recognize and encounter these new social and textual forms of meaning-making, literary and social studies must approach each other in their analytical practices.

This project with its established network of research groups both in Finland and abroad accepts and opts for the challenges involved in interdisciplinary research.  However, concepts like metaphor or narrative often travel from one discipline to another without sufficient text-theoretical baggage. Interdisciplinary approaches need to be based on close scrutiny of the fundamental principles adopted by the disciplines in question. We believe that our concentration on meaning-making in literary and social studies involves a sufficiently limited field to enable rigorous conceptual analysis and, at the same time, a field broad enough to host a rich spectrum of research questions and innovative encounters. We truly believe, that interdisciplinarity requires first and foremost disciplinarity, otherwise it would lose its basis. That is why we have gathered groups with expertise in the above core questions such as fact/fiction, signification, (inter)subjectivity, mental spaces and images, cultural meaning-making. The groups concentrate their efforts both in their specific research questions and in the broader endeavor to seek and overcome disciplinary borders and distinctions.

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Last update: 12.12.2012 12.45 Muokkaa

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