Bringing together literary scholars from a wide variety of fields who engage theoretically, rhetorically, and/or historically with Economics, broadly defined.

Canon of 21st century global capitalism

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    Christopher Michaelson
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    @stopherites

    I am engaged in a project to bring contemporary world literature into the business classroom, scholarly management research, and even the dialogue of business practice. One aspect of this project involves identifying enduring novels that explore, directly or allegorically, business, economic, and work-related behaviors – especially in the context of contemporary, developing markets. I would value your help to systematically identify such works of literature for an evolving “canon” of 21st century global capitalism that I am compiling to promote dialogue among students, scholars, and the business community.

    For example, an important part of the plot of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist examines the career arc of the narrator, a Pakistani who leaves his job at a venerable American strategy consulting firm after experiencing the “sudden broadening of my arc of vision” post 9/11. As another example, the driver-for-hire in Romesh Gunesekera’s Noontide Toll takes the reader on a tour of entrepreneurial ventures emerging from the aftermath of civil war. And Abdelrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt brings the reader back to the early days of the discovery and exploitation of oil on the Arabian peninsula. Reading such literature exposes students and businesspersons to a variety of visions and versions of capitalism and its consequences. For researchers, as I explained in a recent essay in the Academy of Management Review, ““How we tell the story of capitalism…is fundamental to our management disciplines’ orientation to study and explain what it is, who does it when and where and for whom, how to do it well, and why to do it at all.”

    Some strategies that I am pursuing to identify relevant novels include the following:

    • Drawing from my own and colleagues’ reading;
    • Researching syllabi of comparative literature courses that explore business and economic themes;
    • Reviewing the catalogs of literary presses specializing in publishing contemporary world literature in English translation;
    • Searching book reviews;
    • Querying MLA and AWP membership.

    All of these methods provide some promising leads, but none are sufficient, and, as a mixed blessing of sorts, few actually narrow down the “search area.”

    I would be grateful for your perspective on the following questions:

    1. Among so-called economically “emerging markets,” which do you consider to have especially rich literary (especially, novels) traditions?
      1. What particularly iconic authors and/or works from these markets explore business and economic themes?
      2. Aside from novels, do any other markets come to mind that have strong traditions in alternative forms of narrative (e.g., film, poetry, drama)?
      3. Do you recommend any scholarly work that explains why some cultures have more well-developed literary traditions than others?
    2. What credible resources are there for identifying so-called “great” non-English-language novels (e.g., The Guardian, Time, and the Modern Library have all published “100 best” English-language novels lists, but so-called “world literature” is under-represented on such lists).
    3. What data are available on bestselling novels over time, i.e., novels that may not be on contemporary bestseller lists but that have endured in the canon as measured by long-term sales data (e.g., Anna Karenina, Middlemarch)?
      1. What reliable reference points are there for bestselling books outside of the United States (e.g., non-U.S. analogs to the New York Times bestseller lists)? (Note: Although I recognize that bestseller status is rarely an indicator of literary quality, another part of the research project might explore contemporary mass market tastes in books.)

    Thank you for any ideas and suggestions you may have.

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