Descriptive Adaptation Studies

Epistemological and Methodological Issues

By Patrick Cattrysse

It is common practice nowadays for adaptation critics to denounce the lack of meta-theoretical thinking in adaptation studies and to plead for a study of 'adaptation-as-adaptation;' one that eschews value judgments, steps beyond normative fidelity-based discourse, examines adaptation from an intertextual perspective, and abandons the single-source model for a multiple-source model. This book examines a research program that does all that and more. It was developed in the late 1980s and presented in the early 1990s as a 'polysystem' (PS) study of adaptations. Since then, the PS label has been replaced with 'descriptive.' The book studies the question of whether and how a PS approach could evolve into a descriptive adaptation studies (DAS) approach. Although not perfect (no method is), DAS offers a number of assets. Apart from dealing with the above-mentioned issues, DAS transcends an Auteurist approach and looks at explanation beyond the level of individual agency (even if contextualized). As an alternative to the endless accumulation of ad hoc case studies, it suggests corpus-based research into wider trends of adaptational behavior and the roles and functions of sets of adaptations. DAS also allows reflection upon its own epistemic values. It sheds new light on some old issues: How can one define adaptation? What does it mean to study adaptation-as-adaptation? Is equivalence still possible and is the concept still relevant? DAS also tackles some deeper epistemological issues: How can phenomena be compared? Why would difference be more real than sameness or change more real than stasis? How does description relate to evaluation, explanation, prediction, etc.? The book addresses both theory-minded scholars who are interested in epistemological reflection and practice-oriented adaptation students who want to get started. From a theoretical point of view, it discusses arguments that could support the legitimacy of adaptation studies as an academic discipline. And, from a practical point of view, it explains in general terms the ways of conducting an adaptation study.


Publication Date: 2/11/2014
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9789044131291