Evaluative judgements in the field of independent literary publishing

Wednesday 19 June, 4.00pm-5.15pm

A research seminar with Simon Stewart (University of Portsmouth)

CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, 7 Salisbury Road, Leicester LE1 7QR

All welcome, no booking required

This talk will focus on the relatively under-explored matter of evaluative judgements in the field of independent literary publishing. It will examine the basis on which senior figures at independent presses, in their role as cultural intermediaries, decide which book projects to publish. Drawing on primary data from forty-seven interviews with independent literary publishers from six countries, the speaker identifies three key dimensions of evaluative judgements: aesthetic, ethical and temporal. Each of these appeals to a different value sphere and clashes with economic considerations. In most instances, it is argued that there is a mix of these modes of judgement as publishers seek to justify their choices. The research found that field-specific aesthetic judgements assess the extent to which literary manuscripts innovate by ‘contributing to the conversation’. Ethical considerations, such as attempting to address the ‘diversity deficit’, reach beyond the field and appeal to a sense of the common good. Meanwhile, the temporal dimension of judgements gestures beyond the narrow timeframes of marketing schedules with a view to the long game of literary fame. The analysis of the publishers’ practical accounts of their evaluative judgements demonstrates how they mark their distinctive position in the field and distinguish themselves from the corporate houses.

Speaker biography

Dr Simon Stewart is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Director of the Centre for European and International Studies Research at University of Portsmouth. Before arriving at Portsmouth in 2008, he worked as a Fellow in the department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He completed his doctorate at University of Sussex (2006). Simon is the author of Culture and the Middle Classes (Ashgate, 2010) and A Sociology of Culture, Taste and Value (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change and is a Board member of the Sociology of Culture Research Network of the European Sociological Association.