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literature, London School of Economics

Fiction More Than Escape, Researchers Say

November 07, 2008 09:56 AM
by Emily Coakley
A key to understanding the plight of developing countries might be in the pages of a novel, not a technical report, according to a new study.

Value of Fiction Emphasized

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A newly completed analysis suggests that fiction could help people studying complex world issues.

The Daily Telegraph reported on the study, called, “The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge,” which says popular fiction can illustrate modern difficulties better than academic studies.

As an example, the authors, from the London School of Economics and Manchester University, cited “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. The book “has arguably done more to educate Western readers about the realities of daily life in Afghanistan under the Taliban and thereafter than any government media campaign, advocacy organisation report, or social science research,” they wrote.

One of the study’s authors, Michael Woolcock, told The Daily Telegraph that their observations only go so far, and they weren’t suggesting, “[T]hat poets should replace finance ministers.”

“The Fiction of Development” included a suggested reading list, with titles such as “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie, and Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible.”

The authors’ hypothesis isn’t the first time that fiction has been suggested for curricula outside of the English Department.
Paul Levinson, an author of science fiction, nonfiction and criticism works, suggested that science fiction may be good for teaching philosophy.

“[T]he science fictional setting gives us something unique. As we come to identify with the characters and enjoy the stories, we internalize the philosophic issues in a way that makes them a permanent part of our thinking.”

The Ottawa Citizen, in a recent editorial, highlighted another instance in which literature is being used in an unconventional way.

“At Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, where, a year ago, residents began discussing short stories and poems with medical themes during rounds, patient evaluations of residents have improved significantly. Residents seem to be more aware of their patients’ humanity, more willing, say, to ask about hobbies and families.”

The Citizen editorial concludes that C.P. Snow, a scientist and novelist, would like this bridging of science and arts. In 1959, he gave a lecture in which he said that the growing division between the humanities and sciences were a problem. Knowledge of one world, he said, encourages creativity in the other.

According to the Citizen, “If the fissure in human knowledge continues to grow, he warned, it will make solving the world's problems more difficult.”

Reference: Working paper

Related Topics: The literary president; write a novel in a month

For those who have a complicated problem to illustrate through fiction, November is National Writing Month, where people try to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days. Learn more about how to participate and catch up. 

Some authors are happy that Sen. Barack Obama is the president-elect. According to the Canadian Press, "Writers welcome Obama as a peer, a thinker, a man of words—his own words." 

Obama has written two books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope." 

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Toni Morrison said, "I had read his first book ('Dreams From My Father'). I was astonished by his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase. I was very impressed. This was not a normal political biography."
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