Through Thick and Thin: On the Typology and Agency of Literary Journals

By Matthew Philpotts.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper takes a typological approach to one of the essential forms of publication in the cultural field, namely the literary journal. More specifically, it develops a theoretical distinction between ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ journals which runs through the content, form and function of these key publishing institutions in the twentieth century. Informed by Pierre Bourdieu’s theorisation of the cultural field and drawing on specific examples from German literary history, the paper will argue for a fundamental reconceptualisation of the journal as a dynamic agent in its own right, rather than as simply a neutral vessel for publishing activity. While the innovative agency of the short-lived ‘thin’ journals usually associated with the avant-garde has been widely acknowledged, especially at moments of cultural change, much less attention has been paid to longer-standing, high-prestige ‘thick’ journals. And yet, as I shall demonstrate, the high levels of symbolic capital associated with these journals and their established mediating role in the field lends them a unique capacity to shape the prevailing values of the field in and beyond periods of flux.

Keywords: Literary Journals, Cultural Change, Bourdieu, Publishing Field, Typology

International Journal of the Book, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.55-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.203MB).

Dr. Matthew Philpotts

Lecturer in German Studies, School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

I have researched widely on the role of literary journals in twentieth-century German literary history, most notably on an AHRC-funded periodisation project which was published as The Modern Restoration: Re-thinking Twentieth-Century German Literary History 1930-1960 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004). Most recently I have co-authored the first full history of the highly influential (East) Berlin periodical Sinn und Form (Sinn und Form: Anatomy of a Literary Journal (Berlin/ NY: De Gruyter, 2009)), using Bourdieu as a means to conceptualise the function of the journal in the political and cultural fields. My interest now lies in developing this theoretical framework in a comparative direction.

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