Reviews

Mariano Longo, Fiction and Social Reality. Literature and Narratives as Sociological Resources, Routledge, 2015, 176 pages[Record]

  • Luca Serafini
Luca Serafini Mariano Longo, Fiction and Social Reality. Literature and Narratives as Sociological Resources, Routledge, 2015, 176 pages. This book by Mariano Longo provides a useful tool for methodological analysis of the productive use sociology can make of narratives, whether understood as everyday stories about subjective experiences or as literary fictions. Given the theoretical scope of the topic, Longo’s text necessarily positions itself as a wider reflection on the cognitive value of literature and on the epistemological borders defining the similarities and differences between the various human sciences. Indeed, the object of narrative and/or analysis of both literature and sociology, despite different methods and objectives, is the human being, understood as an individual who acts in a social environment and within a network of relationships. Accordingly, the first two chapters of the book investigate which characteristics of stories in general, and of literary ones in particular, contain elements of relevant cognitive value, and how these can be structurally related to social research. Longo stresses first and foremost that ever since the so-called “narrative turn”, storytelling is now considered a constitutive element of the experience that subjects make of their world. Narrative implies that certain items from the chaotic and fragmented reality of daily experience are selected, given an order and systematized on the basis of cause-and-effect, temporal relationships. Their connection also generally implies a transmission of specific ideas and values. Expressed in other terms, as noted by Roland Barthes among others, storytelling is a “meaning construction process”. This also applies to narratives without any direct reference to reality, such as literary ones. The need to go beyond a naive conception of the relationship between literature and social research – that literature has no value for social research precisely because of its lack of real referents – stems from this point. There is no need to resort to the example of naturalist and realist novels to give sociological value to literary stories. While describing the social reality of a period is a specific objective of the author in these types of narratives, practically to the point of becoming the deterministic cause behind the plot development, in other literary genres as well, says David Carr, the story unfolds based on typifications that are culturally defined and sedimented in the storehouse of social knowledge belonging to a context and historical period. As Ricoeur once argued, literary narrative is a process with three stages, each coinciding with a different type of mimesis. The plot (Mimesis 2) is rooted in the pre-understanding of human action proper to the narrator and to the context in which he or she acts (Mimesis 1), and ends up having a retroactive effect on the reader’s understanding of his or her daily reality (Mimesis 3). Hence, sociologists may also uncover useful information about a particular society in novels because the way the author connects certain events and represents the protagonists of his or her narrative is influenced in some ways by the cultural codes within which he or she works. As Florian Znaniecki explained in his 1934 text entitled The Method of Sociology, literature can then become auxiliary evidence for sociological theories, allowing hypotheses to be validated in part through the use of narrative texts. Considering the ability of novelists to anticipate trends – new ways of thinking or new social concepts – literature can also become a catalyst for bringing new issues to light, serving in other terms as an intuitive basis for further hypotheses or research directions. In a word, the narrator is not only a mirror of the time in which he or she lives, but also in ...