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On Entering Into the World:
A Literary-Sociological Study of Poets of Debut Volumes in the Swedish Literary Field in the 1970s

Daan Vandenhaute
Nordic Studies
Ghent University, Belgium
June 2001

The protagonists in my study are Swedish poets who published their debut volumes from 1968-1976. I look at this group from a literary-sociological point of view, aiming to serve a dual purpose: to contribute to the historical understanding of a recent period in Swedish literary history that still is in need of exploration, and to go beyond the particularities of the Swedish case and contribute to our understanding of how literary fields operate in modern Western societies.

In order to achieve these goals, the study is designed as follows: the group that is examined consists only of novices who published a book of poetry between 1968 and 1976, excluding those which were published at the author’s own expense or by distinctly regional or religious publishing houses. Consequently, this selection excludes amateur writers while it includes those that aimed for a position within the literary field, regardless of the success of their efforts. In all, this sampling technique yielded 126 first-time authors.

The period of time that I study, the late sixties until the early eighties, is commonly accepted as a more or less homogeneous period within Swedish literary history and allows me to not only study the actual first-time book publication, but also the first stage in the novices' literary careers.

How these authors entered the field is studied in all its complexity, including the analysis of institutional factors, the social backgrounds of the novices, and the symbolic space in which they took positions. Therefore, data are collected regarding publication strategies, sideline activities (e.g. performing at literary festivals, writing literary criticism, etc.) institutional recognition and preferences, artistic choices, social backgrounds, and educational levels. These data are obtained from several sources, including the use of mail questionnaires, excerpts from polemic articles, manifestos and interviews, biographical data and content analysis of the reviews the authors received. The data are mainly analyzed using a multivariate method for exploring cross-tabular data called multiple correspondence analysis.

The nature of the research questions and strategies is motivated by the study's theoretical frame of reference. The study inscribes itself in the fairly recent tradition of literary research that, for convenience, could be described as the functionalist or systemic approach. Within this approach, cultural and literary phenomena are studied in their complex historical and social context in empirically verifiable ways.

Through a rigorous empirical examination of the investments made by the novices, the study of the ideological and aesthetic issues that were at stake, and the investigation of important institutional factors such as mediation and reception, this project wants to contribute to our understanding of the time-bound social process through which literature comes into being as such. At the same time, it is relevant to our knowledge of Sweden’s recent literary history.