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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using Fiction Sociologically


This article argues that narrative fiction can be used as a rich source of data about culturally patterned emotions and evaluations that are difficult to study in other ways. It first reconsiders the research which has led sociologists to be increasingly pessimistic about drawing conclusions about wider cultural meanings from cultural objects. After sketching a theory of how fiction works psychologically, the author provides concrete guidelines for sampling fiction for analysis. Using examples drawn from the author’s own research on short stories in American and French women’s magazines during the 1950s, the article demonstrates how to analyze the content of fiction so as to tap its unique strengths as a medium for communicating the ethical truths of culture.

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