Disembedded Autonomy: Field Position and Organizational Process in Awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature

Jacob Habinek, Institute for Analytical Sociology in Norrköping, Sweden

Why do some works of art become consecrated as uniquely valuable – and others do not? Field-theoretic perspectives emphasize that consecrators orient towards recognized positions in the field of cultural production. Processual accounts, in contrast, treat consecration as the outcome of a stochastic process in which separating winners from near-winners is often a matter of luck. Using a novel dataset of nominations and committee evaluations for the Nobel Prize in Literature from 1901 to 1970–the most recent year available under the Nobel statutes–this paper examines the determinants of consecration for the most renowned of literary prizes. The results show that while the nomination of candidates reflects a field of competing national literatures, field positions exert less influence on the selection of laureates. Far from leaving things to chance, however, members of the Swedish Academy make use of ambiguities in the official procedures to support their own conceptions of merit, most notably a distinctive “literary internationalism” in the postwar era.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 228. Tastes and Consecration