This research will analyse the production of commentary (blogs, chatrooms, online communities), creativity (fanfiction, remixes) and analysis (reviews) by using qualitative textual analysis and making reference to established literary theory and studies. It will draw on existing studies of the role of the reader, and use these models to theorise about the effects and format of digital responses. Recent research on reading groups (e.g. Allington and Swann, 2011), fan forums and online communities will also provide an important context for the study, especially studies which engage with ‘literary fans’ and their specific interests and practices (Pearson, 2007; Tulloch, 2007). It will also use research which explicitly sets out to demonstrate how digital technologies can enhance and develop existing computer-based methodologies, for example Salway and Herman’s (2011) exploration of the potential uses of digitized corpora.
The research will gather empirical evidence of the specific ways in which readers are responding to the changing media environment. For example:
- It will explore how far today’s ‘migratory’ (Parody 2011) readers rely on multiple points of access for their consumption of texts, and continually blur the boundaries between texts, genres and media.
- It will examine how readers use online forums and communities to share and discuss their ideas, and how social media and the affordances of new technologies such as the ereader allow individuals to easily connect with those who share their interests in a specific author, texts, or group of texts. This is particularly important in an environment where ebook sales are outstripping their print counterparts and where young adults increasingly rely on social media for entertainment, news, gossip and other forms of storytelling.
- It will analyse reviews posted on various websites (e.g. Amazon) using qualitative textual analysis and with particular reference to:
- reader response theories
- the extent to which the opinions of these readers emulate or contest the kind of practices normalised within the academy.
The project will then use a combination of interviews and workshops to analyse how the evidence gathered from these activities impacts on the teaching of literature, critical studies of specific authors or genres, and in developing existing approaches and theoretical accounts of the role of the reader. Participants will be selected on the basis of their pre-existing engagement with literary texts, including students at school and university level who are studying English. The research will highlight and open up for debate some of the ethical issues arising out of the use of reader data, for example with regards to the privacy of participants, and their intellectual property rights over the views and opinions they may express online. We will also invite participants to reflect on what kind of methodologies are appropriate for capturing the wide range of activities readers engage in online, and to consider how far digital technologies themselves may facilitate innovative ways of researching these activities. Through these activities and the construction of a dedicated webspace we will build collaborations with groups of readers, teachers, and researchers working across a range of disciplines, both nationally and internationally.
Research activities have been designed with a view to enabling the documentation and analysis of reader responses, while also exploring opportunities for participation and interaction that go beyond the text and which potentially challenge hierarchies of power and authority.
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If you are already conducting research in this area and would like to register as a potential participant in this study for focus groups, interviews and so forth (to be conducted online or travel funding provided where applicable) please register your interest on the Get involved page.