Date of this Version
Hill, Michael R. 2006. “Sociology and Poetry: An Introduction.” Sociological Origins 4 (Spring): 66-68.
Poetry is a sociological reality. It has an institutional location within society, plays an important part in everyday social interaction, and promises very real results as a site for conceiving and explicating alternative social constellations. Simultaneously, poetry is sometimes difficult to grasp by those of decidedly a prosaic bent, and this includes too many sociologists. As poetry shapes — and is in turn shaped by — the active use of language in our culture on the respective parts of authors, speakers, hearers, readers, etc., the relevance and meaning of poetry can escape the sociological imagination when sociologists frame the social world too narrowly. “Every word and every sentence,” Alfred Schutz (1944: 504), reminds us ( following William James), is connected to “fringes”of “past and future elements” and to “emotional values and irrational implications which themselves remain ineffable.” These “fringes,” wrote Schutz, “are the stuff poetry is made of; they are capable of being set to music, but they are not translatable.” The fact that poetry is not translatable means, at the least, that is not fundamentally measurable or quantifiable, leading, in turn, to the wrongheaded conclusion by some sociologists that sociology has little to do with poetry — and vice versa.