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'Operationalizing': or, the function of measurement in modern literary theory

About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Franco Moretti;

End date: Dec 1, 2013

  • “Operationalizing”: Or, the function of measurement in modern literary theory
  • Totentanz. Operationalizing Aby Warburg’s Pathosformeln

This project takes up the concept of "operationalizing": the process whereby concepts (like those of literary theory) are transformed into a series of operations (such as different forms of quantification), which enable one to measure objects.

Approaches to measuring the same concept may vary: to measure "character-space" one scholar may simply count number of occurrences of the character's name, another might count what percentage of the dialogue the character utters. Dialogue directionality may also factor in.

The project notes that measurement can add detail to more general statements that could be made without the measurement, but is not limited to only that scenario. Instead, measurement can allow scholars to understand texts in different ways, e.g. by measuring character-space using different metrics.

As a second case study, the project attempted to operationalize "tragic collision", as an example of a literary concept not designed to be quantified, charting a path from a traditional generalization to empirical data. For this, the project used the Lab's most distinctive words metric.