Reading the reading experience: an ethnomethodological approach to 'booktalk'

Allington, Daniel and Benwell, Bethan (2012). Reading the reading experience: an ethnomethodological approach to 'booktalk'. In: Lang, Anouk ed. From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, pp. 217–233.



Interviews and focus groups have long been employed to research the ways in which literary and televisual texts are understood by their contemporary consumers, and the historical study of reading and of reception has often taken the same approach to written descriptions of reading experiences. The appeal of this kind of information is obvious: where better to learn about readers than straight from the horse’s mouth?

Nonetheless, there are problems with treating such data, whether researcher-elicited or spontaneous, as transparent. Acknowledgement of this has led to an emerging ‘crisis of representation’ within the fields of cultural and reception studies, whereby researchers have begun to question their ability to represent social reality with any objectivity. Whether we are interested in acts of reading past or acts of reading and viewing present, this apparently leaves us with a choice between closing our eyes to obvious difficulties and restraining ourselves only to such topics of investigation as can be approached by the powerful but impersonal methods of quantitative sociology, book history and economics. In this chapter, we propose an alternative approach whose roots lie in ethnomethodology.

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