What potential lies in the analysis of institutions for those seeking to analyze racism, colonialism, and misogyny in the Canadian literary field? How crucial is the study of institutions of the literary to what Rinaldo Walcott, paraphrasing Jacques Derrida, calls “our debt and / or duty to reanimating and remaking the institutions of knowledge production, citizenship, the post-nation nation, and the desire for a ‘democracy yet to come’”? (“Against Institution” 23)
As Diana Brydon acknowledges in a 2007 essay, the first TransCanada conference (2005) raised questions about institutions that produced “uneasiness” regarding the fact that “what were once sociological questions were now overwhelmingly more properly literary ones.” This “uneasiness” speaks to a hesitancy that has, arguably, prevented rigorous analysis of the institutional structures and constraints that mediate the contemporary literary field. If what scholars of CanLit know (more and less successfully) is that colonialism and neoliberalism underpin our locations and methods of study, and if, relatedly, our hesitance to engage sociological approaches stems from our sense that the social sciences, their uses of empirical research, if not disciplinarity itself, is likewise colonial in many respects, are we uniquely poised to press upon the limits of “the sociology of literature” just as this approach is gaining renewed critical interest in literary studies?
Scholars of Canadian literatures have only begun to examine the institutions that have shaped the meanings of the literary. Recent work from the TransCanadas project and on topics such as literary celebrity, literary prizes, pedagogy, publishing, and mass reading events open sociologically oriented lines of inquiry, but there is still much to learn about how institutions–– public and private, mainstream and marginal––and their practices—from cultural policy to hiring criteria to sexual violence policies––shape the literary in Canada. If social oppression is linked to structural inequalities, how have the local, regional, national, and global institutions that have mediated the literary in Canada entrenched or resisted those inequalities?
Institutional Work seeks to bring together papers that analyze the literary cultures of Canada / of Indigenous nations within the boundaries of Canada in relation to past and present institutions. The more than two dozen speakers at this conference will address topics ranging from national and multinational publishing companies, book prizes, small presses, the CBC and other media agencies, educational institutions, residential schools, federal cultural policy, and literary marketing.