Study of the discourse of reading groups:We were looking at reading groups, or book clubs- - People who come together to share their interpretations of a literary text.Project carried out with OU colleagues Kieran O’Halloran and Daniel Allington5 or 6 years ago –But bits of follow-up work sinceIn terms of today’s workshop you can see reading groups as an instance of a cultural experience, or cultural encounter – Everyday, collective encounter with a literary text.
So we were interested in these cultural, or literary encounters, and how they worked – how people managed these encounters.These were our research questions:Mainly 1st 4 points.<list>2nd point: what does the interpretive process look like?How are interpretations co-constructed between readers?How is disagreement managed … etc?
Diverse contexts:Geographical diversity – different parts of Britain;Different kinds of groups and readers – e.g. friendship meeting in people’s houses, or in one case in a pub;Reading groups meeting in a library, bookshops, a knitting shop, a gay cafe;Groups meeting in institutional contexts – school, workplace, prisonSpread of female and male readersDifferent agesEtcData - <list>
How we analysed the discourse<list> - cf research questionsAtlas-ti – qualitative analytical software helped with the initial identification of themes across these data setsCorpus linguistics – quantitative analysis that allows you to identify patterns in the distribution of words, phrases, across different RG discussionsSo again it’s a way into the preoccupations of reading groups, and how these are discursively structured.[Kieran refs]
See sep pages
<list>Ev day cultural experience …… caught on the hoof – catching a cultural experience, or cult encounter, as this happens in specific contextsBackground information on the cultural values project mentioned different dimensions of cult encounters – e.g. ‘aesthetic’, ‘cognitive’ – I’d want to add ‘discursive’ – how this plays out in discourse.It’s at the informal/improvisatory end of cultural experience (cf formal organisations) – though there is an interaction with the publishing industry, and sometimes with institutional priorities for groups that meet in institutions)It’s seen as intrinsically rewarding but there are also perceived benefits – in terms of:Personal benefits to individuals (e.g. enhancing literary reading as well as exploring personal issues)Professional benefits – workplace (medics) groupRehab – prison groupEducational benefits – school groupInfo sheet mentions deconstructing dichotomies – and RG activity crosses some apparent boundaries – e.g.
Motivations – why reading groups?Widespread cultural practice, so of interest in its own terms [2002 estimate put the no of groups in Britain @ 50,000.Under-estimate - later evidence – 20,000 lib group]cultural salience – media interest, media reading groups, publishing industry targets reading groups [questions in books etc], raft of web sites, magazines, books etc aimed at reading groups … etcRG discourse – raison d’etre for RGs - of interest in applied linguistics as an example of quasi institutional discourse, and a form of popular argumentation: quality of the talk is of interestAs a literary practice, RG discourse contributes particularly to understanding of everyday literary receptionCan say more about any of these points.
The Discourse of Reading GroupsAHRC-funded project, 2007/8Joan SwannThe Open University
Research questions• What kinds of interpretations and evaluations doreading group members provide of contemporaryfiction/other literary texts?• How are interpretations/evaluations constructed?• How is such critical work interwoven with thesocial, interpersonal and affective demands of groupinteraction?• What kinds of reader identities are negotiated byparticipants?• How do interpretations/evaluations relate to theprofessional judgements made by literary critics andacademics?
Main sources of data16 Reading groups meeting in diverse contexts(geography, types of groups, types of readers):• Reading group discussion, audio-recorded/transcribed;• Group interviews with reading groupmembers, audio-recorded/transcribed;• Non-participant observation of meetings;• Documentary evidence, including publishedreviews/academic commentary on books selected fordiscussion, group newsletters, group reviews.
Discourse analysisInteractional sociolinguistics - socially-oriented andcontextualised analysis of language in interaction:• Identification of emergent themes• Discursive strategies adopted by participants• Informed by e.g.observations, interviews, relevant documentsPlus:• Atlas-ti• Corpus linguistics
OutcomesPublications (see examples) have focused on:• Reading group talk as an act of reading• Reading and re-reading over time• Literary readings as creative/contingent• Talking beyond the book• Methodological contrasts/combinations• Reading groups and the academy
Sample publicationsAllington, D. and Swann, J. (2009) ‘Researching literary reading as socialpractice’, Language and Literature. 18 (3): 219-30.Allington, D. and Swann, J. (2011) ‘Reading and social interaction: a criticalapproach to individual and group reading practices’, in R. Crone and S. Towheed(eds) The History of Reading, Vol 3: Methods, Strategies, Tactics.Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, pp80-96.O’Halloran, K. (2011) ‘Investigating argumentation in reading groups: combiningmanual qualitative coding and automated corpus analysis tools’, AppliedLinguistics 32 (2): 172-196.Swann, J. (2012) ‘Creative interpretations: a discursive approach to literaryreading’, in Jones, R. (ed) Discourse and Creativity. Harlow: Pearson Education.Swann, J. (2011) ‘How reading groups talk about books: a study of literaryreception’, in Swann, J., Pope, R. and Carter, R. (eds)Creativity, Language, Literature: the state of the art. Basingstoke, Hants: PalgraveMacmillan, pp217-230.Swann, J. and Allington, D. (2009) ‘Reading groups and the language of literarytexts: a case study in social reading’, Language and Literature. 18 (3): 247-64.Swann, J. and Cremin, T. (2012) ‘Shadowing English’, English DramaMedia, October 2012: 31-7.
1. “Well I will startbecause I will start”<Loved book; cf Primeof Miss Jean Brodie>2. “… which I named mycardigan after”<knitting, John Lewis’sbuttons>3. “The thing … thatstrikes me as anAmerican”<living together in the1950s; contrast actualpractice in NY>4. “The thing … I found alittle difficult … [narrator]was only 28”<Narrator’s age, terribleending>6. “I also thought it wasclever the wayeverything kept comingback …”5. <Cf WW2 fiction –lovers have sex then guygets killed; cf programmeon Kamikaze pilots>
3. Meaningof‘Aswany’,where thenamecomes from7. Where do Copts comefrom?5. Author is a Dentist2. ‘IsAswany[author] aChristianname?’Is the authora Christian?4. ‘Does anybody know howthe book?’6. Author as Coptic dentist
Links to ‘Cultural value’ themes• Instance of everyday cultural experience …• … caught on the hoof• Aesthetic and discursive dimensions of culturalencounters• Informal/improvisatory (though cf publishingindustry)• Intrinsically rewarding + perceived benefits:personal, professional, rehabilitative, educational• Crosses boundaries: private/public;individual/collective; intrinsic/instrumental
An example of data: doctors,knowledge and powerContext: A reading group in a university medicalschool is discussing Steinbeck’s The Pearl. They referto the oppression faced by the main character Kinoand his family, as well as by other poor villagers. Asan example Meg refers to a corrupt doctor, whorefuses to treat Kino’s baby for a scorpion sting untilhe learns Kino has found a valuable pearl. At thispoint the doctor visits the family and administers apowder that makes the baby appear ill so that he canclaim a fee for treating him.
Motivations for research• Reading groups as a widespread culturalphenomenon• … and as culturally salient• The significance of reading group discourse• Reading groups as an everyday literarypractice
East midlands: language inThe Gathering- something incestuous about relationship?- sharing a bed as children- close - came out like a gang bang- interesting use of language- sexual language extremely crude- hate and love- physicality of sex- train to Brighton … guy’s erection- critic in here hasn’t liked it