The World Republic of Theory: Epistemic Inequality in World Literature Studies

The academic field of World Literature is constantly concerned with the need to broaden its literary canon. But the canon of Literary Theory, or the epistemologies through which we read and interpret world literature, is still mostly Euro-American, and the need to broaden it has remained relatively unaddressed. This epistemic inequality was the focus of this presentation, which called for an epistemic shift: a broadening of our theoretical canon and of the epistemologies through which we read world literature. Chen Bar-Itzhak first explored the unequal distribution of epistemic capital through a sociological examination of the “world republic of literary theory” (drawing on Pascale Casanova's work), and addressed the limits of circulation of literary epistemologies from the margins. Chen then argued that the result of this inequality is the phenomenon she call “Intellectual Captivity”, which creates problematic and domesticating readings of world literature. In order to demonstrate the ethical and political implications of this phenomenon, Chen examined a few readings of world literature performed by scholars at the center of the field. Finally, she suggested a few possible directions towards  a redistribution of epistemic capital within the discipline.

This event was chaired by Dr Michelle Kelly (Oxford).