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Why novels are best at explaining world problems

By / November 10, 2008



Those of us who were lit majors have known it all along: The novel works better than academic literature to explain global problems. But now some economists are validating that notion.

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"Despite the regular flow of academic studies, expert reports, and policy position papers, it is arguably novelists who do as good a job – if not a better one – of representing and communicating the realities of international development,"  says Dr. Dennis Rodgers from England's Manchester University's Brooks World Poverty Institute.

Rodgers was speaking for a team of academics from Manchester University and the London School of Economics as they presented a report called "The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge."

The reason: Fiction "does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does," argues Dr. Rodgers.

In a piece in the Telegraph last week, Rodgers goes on to cite "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga, and "Brick Lane" by Monica Ali as books that he says have done more to educate large numbers of people about life under the Taliban in Afghanistan, social injustice in India, and global development problems everywhere than any number of academic studies.

Of course, points out Professor Michael Woolcock, director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, the authors of the report are "not arguing that poets should replace finance ministers."

However, says Tom Clougherty, policy director of the Adam Smith Institute, fiction is "a useful tool in aiding people's understanding, sparking their interest, and humanizing issues."

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