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Title: A reading community and the individual response to literature
Author: West, Alastair
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1986
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This study is concerned with the social production of adolescent readers of fiction and with the formation of their responses to the fiction they read. It was conceived from within the mainstream "progressive" tradition of secondary English teaching, but is written from a perspective informed by more recent developments in literary theory. The overall problem addressed is: how do adolescents become confirmed readers of fiction? It is investigated in two ways. The first seeks to identify those working practices and social relations in secondary schools most likely to promote adolescent fiction reading. The second seeks to understand the perceptions that adolescents have of the fiction that they read. The report is based upon a longitudinal study of six teaching groups in three comprehensive schools. A combination of ethnographic and survey methods was employed. In two of the schools fiction reading was found to decline sharply over the two year period. Readership patterns were closely associated with social class origins, gender and school ability grouping. In the third school, however, which had the highest proportion of working class students, fiction reading did not decline, nor was it influenced by ability grouping, gender or social class. These different reading outcomes are shown to relate closely to the working practices and the exercise of power within the schools. One school functions as a reaing community; the other two do not. The significance of the findings is discussed in relation to contemporary theories of cultural and social reproduction. Schools, it is concluded, have the capacity to do very much more than reproduce and legitimate existing socio-economic differences at and by the cultural level. As for the individual response to literature, the original intention was to present case studies of representative readers from the sample. All three schools sought to initiate their students,ith varying degrees of success, into a particular discourse, the discourse of personal growth, in which fiction reading is held to contribute to the reader's enhanced understanding of the self, others and the world. This view, however, rests upon assumptions about language and texts, the reading process and subjectivity which the intervention of structuralism and later developments in literary theory have rendered untenable. In order to understand the theoretical limitations of this discourse, its disabling classroom consequences and the possibilities for its transformation to more radical and liberating approaches to texts, the case study presented here is of the discourse itself, rather than of those readers who sought access to it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: High school students ; Books and reading ; Teenagers