The Institution of Literature

Edited by Jeffrey J. Williams

Subjects: Literary Theory
Paperback : 9780791452103, 301 pages, December 2001
Hardcover : 9780791452097, 301 pages, December 2001

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Table of contents


Introduction: Institutionally Speaking
Jeffrey J. Williams

I. The Institution of Theory

Framing Theory: The Disorganization of Historiography
Vincent B. Leitch

The Theory Junkyard
James J. Sosnoski

Orbiting Planet Foucault
Paul Trembath

This Feminism Which Is Not One: Women, Generations, Institutions
Devoney Looser

II. The Question of Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies: Literary Criticism's Alter Ego
Grant Farred

Peer Pressure: Literary and Cultural Studies in the Bear Market
Michael Berube

The Work of Cultural Studies in the Age of Transnational Production
Crystal Bartolovich

III. Professional Channels

Dancing in the Dark: A Manifesto against Professional Organizations
Lennard J. David

The Star System in Literary Studies
David R. Shumway

The Life of the Mind and the Academic Situation
Jeffrey R. Williams

IV. The Job of Literature

Time Out of Mind: Graduate Students in the Institution of English
Louise Mowder

Getting Hired
Terry Caesar

The Educational Politics of Human Resources: Humanities Teachers as Resource Managers
Evan Watkins



Leading voices in literary and cultural studies examine the study of literature at the college level, including the fate of theory, the rise of cultural studies, the academic “star” system, and the difficult job market.


In response to the classic question "What is literature?" we usually look to the novels, poems, and plays on our shelves. The Institution of Literature turns this question around, looking instead at the institutions that house literary study. It examines how our institutional practices, protocols, and structures mediate and produce what we call "literature." It shines light on usually hidden but formative dimensions of literary study: from the institutional economy governing theory to the star system of professional reputation; from the corporatization of cultural studies to the reconfiguration of our roles as resource managers rather than literary scholars; and from the position of graduate students to the hierarchical structure of our professional organizations. Gathering contributions from critics such as Michael Bérubé, Terry Caesar, Lennard Davis, Vincent B. Leitch, Devoney Looser, David R. Shumway, James J. Sosnoski, and Evan Watkins, The Institution of Literature forges an original and timely line of research, both criticizing current professional forms of literary study and proposing possibilities for change.

Jeffrey J. Williams is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri. He is the author of Theory and the Novel: Narrative Reflexivity in the British Tradition and editor of PC Wars: Politics and Theory in the Academy.


"A copy … should be on the shelf of every literary and cultural-studies practitioner concerned with the way our institutions and workplaces shape the possibilities of our scholarship and teaching." — College Literature

"These essays are cutting-edge examples of work being done on 'the profession' and 'the institution,' issues that have been dominating advanced literary and theoretical thinking for the past decade. The timeliness of this collection is a strength." — Russell Reising, author of Loose Ends: Closure and Crisis in the American Social Text