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I am starting this thread for those interested in discussing the future of the field of comparative literature.

Here are some possible topics:

  •  Is it a dying field? If so, will its members be absorbed into English, language departments, etc.?
  • Is it growing? If so, where and how?
  • How is the job market?
    • E.g. I have heard the market is terrible for women, but men are finding positions in comp/lit, English, and language departments. Can anyone confirm/deny this rumor?

Looking forward to hearing your perspectives. 

 

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One of my professors is a comp/lit graduate in an English dept. She strongly recommended I apply only to English depts rather than comp lit because complit people have it harder in the job market (the complit depts are dying), and this is from someone who is heavily involved in one of the big complit orgs. I applied anyway but it definitely seems to be a riskier choice.

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Yeah, I was given the same advice: national language departments look down upon comp. lit PhDs, as comp. lit PhDs may not have the grasp over French, Spanish, w/e that a French PhD might have. But oh well, it's not like we are all trying to enter a profession with lots of jobs, so if you want to do it, might as well get a comp. lit PhD.

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To play devil's advocate, while there are problems distinct to Comparative Literature, I think there are some significant upsides as well. I'd also say it comes down to your personal goals & strategy, particularly in the long run. 

If you are dead set on working in a Comp Lit program after graduation, I don't think it's a wise decision—the same goes for smaller language departments. However, I can think of many recent hires in English departments who have come from Comp Lit. At Berkeley, for example, I think around 7-8 of our junior faculty members (a significant majority) have PhDs in Comp Lit, rather than in English. Off the top of my head, I would say that similar trends are visible in other comparable departments, with Princeton and Chicago coming to mind. 

There are various reasons for this, including broad transnational turns in the field, which I can't really go fully go into. I'd say that in many cases the additional language training does help candidates stand out. However, this isn't really beneficial unless there is a significant and/or central Anglophone component to their work. So the proper strategy seems be to work in Comp Lit, but with an eye towards English jobs—i.e. work with a mentor who does Anglophone work, but have a secondary mentor or co-advisor in another language. There's also a lot to be said for working in non-Western languages, particularly Asian languages and Arabic, as well as Indigenous languages. Whether or not Comparative Literature itself is expanding as a discipline, the expansion of subfields like Asian American, Native American, and "Global Anglophone" has opened space for comparatists in other ways. 
 

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  • 1 month later...

I'm going to second Claritus's comment. I've been strongly urged to pick comparative literature over English. From my experience it is the comparative literature graduates who are getting the jobs, not just in Comparative Literature or English but also in language departments and even History. I think the main reason for this is that there are soooo many English graduates and not as many people who work with non-English literatures.

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