When: 28 March 2018, 5-7pm
Who: The Institute of English Studies in partnership with the the Open University’s Postcolonial and Global Literatures Research Cluster and the History of Books and Reading Research Collaboration
Where: Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Novels today appear to accrue markets and circulation with viral speed on social media platforms, a mechanism reminiscent of pre-medieval markets with their emphasis on interpersonal exchange and orality. The ‘republic of letters’ lamented by scholars such as Pascale Casanova for ruthlessly “legislating” literary matters appears today in the hands of readers.  Those once sidelined in Darnton’s circuit now are its major players.

This paper by Priya Joshi, professor of English at Temple University, explores how the digital public sphere has largely rewired how the novel circulates in today’s participatory culture. Fan sites, new writing platforms, and new markets such as India (hailed as ‘the biggest English language book-buying market in the world’ by The Guardian) have reworked the scale of the market as well as its accomplices. The so-called ‘Big Five’ publishers play a smaller role as gatekeepers of production, while readers and their passions dominate to an extent previously unimagined.

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The presentation draws on comparative research from 19th-century colonial archives and 21st-century publishing in India, the UK, the US, and Nigeria. It offers a model for theorising how the novel fabricates the contemporary market in which readers claim and command technologies of both production and consumption. The paper proposes that the social lives of ‘books’ are mediated by technologies but manufactured by consumers who conclusively command circuits far beyond their reach. It establishes that new technologies of circulation and consumption have rendered sharply visible longstanding processes that historically shaped the novel’s success as a global cultural commodity.

Registration is free and open to all.  Book now