Defining Institutions

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By msangster

(In advance of ‘Institutions as Actors’, some thoughts toward a revised definition of ‘institution’, based on the network’s discussions – M.S.)

When we wrote the proposal for the ‘Institutions of Literature, 1700-1900′ network in 2015, and when we advertised via our open call for participants in the autumn of 2016, we left what we meant by ‘institution’ purposefully hazy. The closest that the call came to providing a definition was a description of the functions that we claimed institutions came to occupy during the period we proposed to examine: ‘Between 1700 and 1900, institutions came to play integral roles in literary culture: teaching people how to value writing; providing sites for discussion and networks for circulation; serving as archival repositories; raising and disbursing money; inventing new genres; distributing laurels and condemnations; and authoring works and conducting readings.’[1] Our invitation to ‘stakeholders and curators who work in surviving institutions originating from [the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries]’ perhaps implied we were privileging definitions focusing on organisations over those centred around practices, but in seeking participants and collaborators, we were keen not to be too prescriptive. In part, this was because the network was designed to facilitate rather than …read more