In the 1960s the French philosopher, sociologist and literary theorist Lucien Goldmann developed a theory known as "genetic criticism" (e.g. in Sciences humaines et philosophie. Suivi de structuralisme génétique et création littéraire, 1966). This theory uses several terms whose meaning is not immediately obvious, e.g. "homology", "vision du monde" and "collective subject".

What is the meaning of "homology" (French: "homologie") in Goldmann's genetic structuralism?


Goldmann explains "homology" (French: "homologie") in the Preface to Pour une sociologie du roman (Gallimard, 1964). Goldmann explains that the study of György Lukács's The Theory of the Novel (1914/15, 1920) and René Girard's Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (1961; Deceit, Desire and the Novel) led him to formulate certain hypotheses

concerning, on the one hand, the homology between the classical structure of the novel (French: la structure romanesque classique) and the structure of exchange in liberal economy, and, on the other hand, the existence of certain parallelisms between their later development. (page 22 of the 1964 edition)

(Goldmann erroneously thought that Girard's study considered the novel as genre, whereas in actual fact it was about how certain novels—by Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky—expose desire as mimetic. Much later, in 1991, Girard published A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare, which showed that Shakespeare's plays also exposed desire as mimetic. However, this is beyond the scope of this question.)

Goldmann's hypothesis about homology can be found on page 36 of the same edition (italics from the original text):

La forme romanesque nous paraît être en effet la transposition sur le plan littéraire de la vie quotidienne dans la société individualiste née de la production pour le marché. Il existe une homologie rigoureuse entre la forme littéraire du roman, telle que nous venons de la définir à la suite de Lukács et de Girard, et la relation quotidienne des hommes avec les biens en général, et par extension, des hommes avec les autres hommes, dans une société productrice pour le marché.


The novelistic form seems indeed the transposition on the literary plan of daily life in an individualistic society born from production for a market. There exists a strict homology between the literary form of the novel as we have just defined based on Lukács and Girard, and people's day-to-day relationship with possessions in general and, by extension, between people, in a society that produces for the market.

Goldmann explains that this is a society in which the use value of commodities has been replaced by their exchange value. In this kind of society, the qualitative aspect of things is gradually replaced by a quantifiable exchange value. People who focus on the use value of objects become "problematic individuals" (French: "individus problématiques") and become marginalised (page 38).

The novel presents individuals who search for quality and use value in a society that has oriented itself towards exchange value, and who thereby become "problematic individuals" (page 39). This is essentially the source of the homology between a market-oriented society and the novel.

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Since Tsundoku's answer has sufficiently explained "homology", I won't repeat what's already said. Here are a couple of other supplementary points about "homology":

The idea was originally borrowed from biology. "Homology" in biology refers to similarity shared by organismal structures. A common ancestor is assumed in evolutionary biology between homologous structures. The Wikipedia page on biological homology has some interesting exmaples:

A common example of homologous structures is the forelimbs of vertebrates, where the wings of bats and birds, the arms of primates, the front flippers of whales and the forelegs of four-legged vertebrates like dogs and crocodiles are all derived from the same ancestral tetrapod structure.

By way of illustration this picture from that same page probably works even better. The biology concept has at its core the workings of genes, and organisms structurally resemble each other because they are genetically connected. This is what Goldmann tried to get at by building the theory of "genetic structuralism" as a critique of Saussurean structuralism, although I don't think the things he connected with his idea of homology had any real genetic or historical connections. But that is his central point. He is pointing to the similarity between the form of the novel and the structures of exchange (the capitalist market), two synoptic categories, claiming they are homologous because there are historical and sociological ties between them.

Here a collective or transindividual subject is necessarily implied, because the direct structural homology examines the novel as a collective product of society or people who write it. Inevitably Goldmann privileges the intelligentsia, namely "creators, writers, artists, philosophers, theologians" who "remain dominated by qualitative values."1

Goldmann sees the creative bunch as representative of humanity. Thus his conceptualization of "the collective subject" is pretty easy to distinguish from Durkheim's concept by a similar name. Durkheim's collective consciousness sits outside individual consciousness, but the Goldmann collective subject is the way human beings in a group behave together. History, thus, is the product of the collective praxis of different collective subjects.

Goldmann contrasts his idea of the collective subject with psychoanalytical collective consciousness.

For psychoanalysis, this intelligibility is always related to an individual subject. Social behavior is only secondary and derived; in the last analysis, its intelligibility is imposed from without, even if later interiorized.

For dialectical thought, on the other hand, behavior is made intelligible by relating it to a collective subject. In this case the ' individual subject is subordinate and secondary in explaining behavior, since it presents such irrational phenomena as madness, dreams or even the Freudian slip.

Of course, we are not faced with a collective consciousness which is situated outside individual consciousnesses, there being no consciousness apart from that of individuals. Only, some individuals find themselves in relations which are intrasubjective rather than intersubjective and, thus, constitute the subject of all thought and action which is social and cultural.


Every time we approach an important cultural text or a historical event, we find ourselves before an object of study in which the transindividual subject, or the collective subject if you will, is expressed at a much higher level of coherence than that attained by the consciousness of average individuals (mine or yours, for example), i.e., at a level where positive study can abstract the individual factor.


The individual could not penetrate the work of art without weakening or destroying it, except so far as it is integrated into a collective meaning. 2

Goldmann argues any analysis of works of art should be attempted at in a collective approach. Rather than examining the life events of the author or artist, we should focus on the society at large, because what the individual artist/writer was driven by--libidinal relations-- existed similarly at different places in different people. This concept is crucial to Goldmann constructing his theoretical plane as well as to us understanding Goldmann's entire body of theory because it sets him apart from some other prominent structural Marxist thinkers or structural anthropologists.

Now, one of the most important discussions in the human sciences today is that of knowing whether men or structures generate historical transformations ... ; genetic structuralism asserts that structures, being a universal aspect of all human thought, sensibility or behavior, could in no instance replace man as a historical subject.3

Goldmann contends that a lot of his contemporary Marxist theorists were too deterministic in their viewing structures as ahistorical and preconstructed.

"Vision du monde", or world view, or Weltanschauung is a neo-Kantian concept, owing much to Kant and later Kantian thinkers, and associated with another important concept: totality. A Weltanschauung is a unifying and all-encompassing point of view of a society on every aspect of itself/human activity in all of its dimensions. Departing from Georges Lukacs, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Max Weber, Goldmann writes:

By 'world view' we mean a coherent and unitary perspective concerning man's relationships with his fellow men and with the universe. Since the thought of individuals is rarely coherent and unitary, a world view rarely corresponds to the actual thought of a particular individual.

Thus, a world view is not a given empirical reality, but a conceptual instrument for doing research; an extrapolation constructed by the historian which, however, is not arbitrary, since it is founded on the structure of the real thought of individuals.


World views are historical and social facts. They are totalities of ways of thinking, feeling and acting which in given conditions are imposed on men finding themselves in a similar economic and social situation, that is, imposed on certain social groups.4

1Lucien Goldmann, Towards a Sociology of the Novel, tr. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1975, pp. 1-15.

2Lucien Goldmann, The Subject of the Cultural Creation

3Linguagginella Societtl e nella Technica (Edizioni di Communit~: Milan, 1970), p. 152

4Lucien Goldmann, Theses on the Use of the Concept "World View" in the History of Philosophy

Other sources:
Michael Löwy (1997) Lucien Gold mann or the communitarian wager, Socialism and Democracy, 11:1, 25-35

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