Reading groups and the language of literary texts: a case study in social reading

Bibliographic details

Swann, J. and Allington, D. (2009) ‘Reading groups and the language of literary texts: a case study in social reading’. Language and Literature 18 (3): 247-264.


This article analyses discourse arising in reading group discussions as an instance of a real-world literary reading practice; it arises from and reports on the AHRC-funded Discourse of Reading Groups project. This naturalistic, observational approach to literary reading is contrasted with experimental approaches. Excerpts from the total dataset in which the language of literary texts is discussed are here subjected to two forms of analysis: software-assisted qualitative analysis suggests that where participants appear to make reference to their subjective responses to texts, this often has the function of presenting evaluations of those texts in mitigated form; interactional sociolinguistic analysis shows the sequential emergence of ‘language’ as a discussion topic, how discussion of language is co-constructed between participants and how such literary activity is culturally, interactionally and interpersonally contingent. ‘Face’ emerges as a key explanatory concept in both analyses.


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This paper was a peer-reviewed contribution to the special issue of Language and Literature, ‘Literary reading as social practice’ (Allington and Swann, 2009).