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oct. 20 2011

Three Catalan novels on social change

Broadly speaking, social sciences distinguish agency and the historical coefficient of social change (see Piotr Sztompka, 1993, The Sociology of Social Change; Spanish translation at UAB library). On the one hand, agency-based accounts highlight the role of agents in triggering and promoting change, whereas structure-based accounts rely on the causal power of societal orders that determine the actions of individuals. On the other hand, some analyses hypothesize that political projects impinge on the outcomes of change, whereas others assume that societal dynamics follow a sort of internal logics that political projects can only realise, or fail to realise. This is an important topic in the current course on Social Change and Globalisation at UAB.

Although novels are not discussing this abstract issue, they can provide insights into the importance of agents and political projects in social transformations. Of course, novels are also interesting for their literary qualities, and many writers really excel in narrating changes. Let me very simply recommend three fantastic novels written by Catalan authors. They are vibrant, and also very helpful to understand our topic. You can look for their translation to different languages, sometimes English, at the Institut Ramon Llull website (by simply coping the Catalan title).

First, Jaume Cabré’s “Les Veus del Pamano” tells a story contextualised in Franco’s Spain. There, you will see how ‘good families’ and local authorities collaborated to maintain the social order they had created after the Civil War. Agency and political projects are certainly at stake, but the narration includes a further point that enriches the story and signals one of the big debates in contemporary Spain: that of historical memory. Did you know about the connection between lovers, heroes, military casualties and Roman Catholic saints?

Second, Carme Riera’s “Dins el Darrer Blau” looks at the persecution of Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy territories in the seventeenth century. At that time, Inquisition tried to punish heresy and false Catholics who faked their faith while remaining Jews after the official expulsion of that religion in 1492. Two hundred years later, a group was slaughtered in Majorca in a complex political, religious and legal process. Agency is nicely portrayed in this novel by focusing on a key sociological concept, the unintended effects of social action. I am sure you will figure out which was the prevailing political project.

Third, Joan Francesc Mira’s “Borja Papa” is based on a rigorous research on the life and political work of this Roman Pope, complemented by some creative episodes about his thoughts and feelings. Do not expect the same kind of violence and sex as in the TV show Borgias; Mira’s novel constructs a very complete and complex character. Doubtless, agency is a substantial part of the story, not only because of conspiracy but also because of some crucial biographical episodes. The book also contains a relevant analysis of such an influential political project as the modern state was at the time (think of Max Weber).


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