Character Constellations

Representations of Social Groups in Present-Day Dutch Literary Fiction

Roel Smeets

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Large-scale data analysis of cultural representation in Dutch literary fiction
Fiction has a major social impact, not least because it co-shapes the image that society has of various social groups. Drawing on a collection of 170 contemporary Dutch-language novels, Character Constellations presents a range of data-driven, statistical models to study depictions of characters in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, and other identity categories. Incorporating the tools of network analysis, each chapter highlights an aspect of fictional social networks that affects the representation of social groups: their centrality, their communities, and their conflicts. While reading individual novels in light of emerging statistical patterns, combining the formal methods of social network analysis with the interpretive tools of narratology, this study shows how central societal themes such as (in)equality and emancipation, integration and segregation, and social mobility and class struggle are foregrounded, replicated, or distorted in the Dutch novel.

Showcasing what character-based critiques of literary representation gain by integrating data-driven methods into the practice of critical close reading, Character Constellations contributes to societal debates on cultural representation and identity and the role fiction and art have in those debates.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

“Fiction co-shapes our understanding of social groups in myriad ways and we need to move beyond the traditional methods of close reading (but not abandon them!) if we want to make generalisable, empirical claims about cultural representation.”, Roel Smeets

Runner-up OSL Awards 2021 - PhD Thesis

Chapter 1: Introduction 
1.1 Introduction: Character Constellations
1.1.1 Example: Character Constellations in Joost Zwagerman’s De buitenvrouw (1994) and Robert Vuijsje’s Alleen maar nette mensen (2008) 
1.1.2 Delineation of the Study and Research Question 
1.1.3 Character Studies 
1.1.4 Characterization and Character Types 
1.1.5 The One Versus the Many 
1.2. Critique of Representation 
1.2.1 Representation and Ideology 
1.2.2 Critiques of Representation in Dutch Literature 
1.3. Cultural Analytics 
1.3.1 Debates on Distant versus Close Reading 
1.3.2 Modeling in Cultural Analytics 
1.4 Methodological Background 
1.4.1 Tools: Narratology and Network Analysis 
1.4.2 Corpus and Data 
1.4.3 Previous Research on Corpus and Dataset 
1.5 Structure of the Book and Instruction for Reading 

Chapter 2: Data 
2.1 Introduction: Descriptive Statistics 
2.2 Information on the Authors 
2.3 Demographic Metadata on the Characters 
2.4 (In)Dependence of Variables 
2.5 Relational Information 
2.6 Interpretation of Descriptive Statistics 

Chapter 3: Centrality 
3.1 Introduction: Narrative Cornerstones 
3.2 Centrality in Network Theory 
3.3 Centrality in Narratology 
3.4 Method for Extracting Character Networks 
3.4.1 Characters as Nodes 
3.4.2 Character Relations as Edges 
3.4.3 Automatic Extraction of Character Networks 
3.5 Model I: Character Rankings 
3.5.1 Results Multiple Regression Analysis 
3.5.2 Close Reading: Centrality, Gender, and Descent in Özcan Akyol’s Eus (2012) 
3.6 Conclusion to this Chapter 

Chapter 4: Community 
4.1 Introduction: Narrative Connections 
4.2 Community in Network Theory 
4.2.1 Community Detection 
4.2.2 Homophily 
4.3 Community in Narratology 
4.3.1 Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic Collectives 
4.3.2 Dialogic Interaction and Polyphony 
4.4 Model I: Community Detection 
4.4.1 Clauset-Newman-Moore and Girvan-Newman Algorithms 
4.4.2 Kernighan-Lin Bisection Algorithm 
4.4.3 Close Reading: Communities in Philip Huff ’s Niemand in de stad (2012) 
4.5 Model II: Homophily 
4.5.1 Dyad Assortativity 
4.5.2 Close Reading: Homophily in Mensje van Keulen’s Liefde heeft geen hersens (2012) 
4.6 Conclusion to this Chapter 

Chapter 5: Conflict 
5.1 Introduction: Narrative Clashes 
5.2 Conflict in Network Theory 
5.3 Conflict in Narratology 1
5.4 Model I: Hierarchies in One-on-one Conflicts 
5.4.1 Conflict Scores 
5.4.2 Results of Multiple Linear Regression 
5.4.3 Close Reading: Class Conflicts between Two Characters in Bart Koubaa’s De Brooklynclub (2012) 
5.5 Model II: Social Balance in Triangular Conflicts 
5.5.1 Automatic Modeling of Social Balance in Enemy/Friend triads 
5.5.2 Social Balance in Leon de Winter’s VSV, of daden van onbaatzuchtigheid 
5.5.3 Social Imbalance in Tommy Wieringa’s Dit zijn de namen 
5.6 Conclusion to this Chapter 

Chapter 6: Conclusion 
6.1 Findings of the Book 
6.2 Public Debates on Literary Representation 
6.3 Future Research 

Appendix A: Statistical tests 
Appendix B: Distribution of Relational Roles 
Appendix C: Main and Interaction Effects 
Appendix D: Pearson Correlations 

Format: Monograph - free ebook - PDF

252 pages

ISBN: 9789461664129

Publication: October 27, 2021

Languages: English


Roel Smeets is assistant professor of modern literature and digital culture at Radboud University Nijmegen.