The mediation of reading: a critical approach to individual and group reading practices

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. and Swann, J. (2011) ‘The mediation of reading: a critical approach to individual and group reading practices’. In: Crone, R. and Towheed, S. (eds.) The history of reading, vol. 3: methods, strategies, tactics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 80-96.

Extract in lieu of abstract

This chapter argues for the need to study the processes by which reading experiences enter the historical record. As we see from the example of Lord Byron’s Don Juan and Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (a history of reading which barely mentions that immensely popular poetic work), suppression of reference to a text in autobiographical (and other) sources can lead to under-representation of that text by historians who read those sources uncritically. Through ethnographic study of a contemporary reading group, this chapter explores the complex processes that link together silent reading, private discussion, and written account with regard to a single text (the English-language translation of Irene Nemirovsky’s Fire in the Blood). It is argued that these processes effectively produce the reading experience, and that they form a more interesting object of study than the hypothetically unmediated reader response that might naively be assumed to underlie them.


The critique developed here of The intellectual life of the British working classes to a great extent builds on that articulated in ‘On the use of anecdotal evidence in reception study and the history of reading‘.

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