The Book And The Text - Expanding The Definition Of A Male Reader
Boys’ relation to reading has been debated for a long time. Numerous international studies bear witness to an existing gender gap in children’s reading; boys read worse and to a smaller extent than before, and they read less than girls and lag behind in literacy skills (Clark & Burke, 2012; Gambell & Hunter, 2000). If one considers the situation from a class perspective the situation of boys with working-class background is described as particularly problematic, since extensive research indicates that there exists a particularly poor reading proficiency among socio-economically disadvantaged boys. In many of the studies there are also often expressed a concern for these boys’ future, since without the ability to read well, they are risking to lose access to higher education and future careers.
Despite the extensive research that exists on boys’ relationship to reading, we have currently still rather limited knowledge about the role and importance reading has in the lives of young men and what experiences they carry out from the reading they have been taught as students in school.
In our presentation, and, from a longitudinal perspective with the aim of focusing our attention on one of the many working-class boys who has walked through the school system as a student, our intention is to be conducive to new knowledge in the field, and also to modulate the negative image of young working-class boys’ future opportunities that is conveyed.
At the center of our presentation is Niklas - a young male excavator, who lives in a rural village in the central parts of Sweden, and our purpose is to present a picture of his reader history, i.e. the journey he has made in his life as a reader of various kinds of texts. Niklas’s reader history is part of a larger research project where we are using a combination of different methodological and theoretical perspectives in the study of young men’s reader histories.
Through a life story approach (Mishler, 1999; Goodson & Sikes 2001), we will in our presentation let Niklas’s story form the basis of our understanding of the phenomena he chooses to talk about, which among other things means that we will use a broader concept of text in our analysis of Niklas’s reader history.
The narrative reflections (Freeman, 2010) that are expressed in Niklas’s narrative of his journey through life as a reader, and the different reader identities that emerge through his own narrative, forms to us his reader history. This reader history has obviously not occurred in a vacuum, but it has been shaped by, and has shaped, the social and cultural environments in which it took place, which is why we also have the intention of highlighting the specific contexts against which Niklas’s reader history interact. Given that social categories, such as gender, class and place are important for students’ school careers, we believe that it is important to study how these categories interact and cooperate in Niklas’s story about his experience of reading. Here, Massey’s work (2005) on place as a social construction, and her emphasis on the mutual relationship between place and identity, Connell’s work (2005) on the construction of masculinity, and the class perspective developed by Bourdieu (1984) are important points of departure in our analysis.
We will tell Niklas’s story by using an approach through which the narrator is at the center of attraction. Thusly, our study has a longitudinal research design (Goodson & Sikes, 2001). The longitudinal design can help us get sight of how Niklas’s relationship to and experience of reading has been shaped, changed and evolved over time. This approach means that it is Niklas’s story that will be brought into focus. At the same time, this personal story shall be put into perspective by relating it to the specific social, cultural and historical circumstances in which what is told takes place (Goodson & Sikes, 2001; Mishler, 1999) why even such empirical data in the form of, for example, documents, theories, texts and physical locations and buildings will be used in our analysis. The reader history to which our interest is directed during our presentation is based on two life story interviews (see Goodson & Sikes, 2001) conducted with Niklas, today a 25-year-old young man, in the summer of 2013. The interviews took place in Niklas’s home and lasted for a total of three hours. Niklas’s story is based on empirical data gathered from a previous research project about a group of vehicle engineering boys’ encounter with the teaching of Swedish at an upper secondary school in a rural place in central Sweden, a project in which Niklas attended as a vehicle engineering student (Asplund & Pérez Prieto, 2013). These extensive empirical data, which consist of videotaped lessons, interviews, surveys and documentation of the boys’ self-produced written texts related to their Swedish classes, among other things, combined with life story interviews, allow us to deepen and modulate our analysis and presentation of Niklas’s reader history.
In the reader history that emerges through Niklas’s narrative, there are more ways to interact with books and texts than the more conventional ways. For instance, Niklas tells us how he helped his father to collect, sort out and sell old books, which to Niklas becomes a way to interact with books, and the interaction that Niklas is talking about has its meaning and significance in the specific context in which it takes place. This concrete and embodied interaction is also significant of Niklas’s relation to reading and books, and it is therefore also an important part of his reader history. Thus, the approach used in our study makes it possible to identify and highlight other, less common ways to interact with books, which also allows a more complex and nuanced story about a young man’s relation to reading.
Asplund, S-B.and Pérez Prieto, H. (2013). ‘Ellie is the coolest’: Class, masculinity and place in vehicle engineering students’ talk about literature in a Swedish rural town school. Children’s Geographies Issue 1, 2013. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction.A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Clark, C. with Burke, D. (2012). Boys’ Reading Commission.A review of existing research to underpin the Commission.London: NationalLiteracy Trust. Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Original workpublished 1995). Freeman, M. (2010). Hindsight.The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward. New York: Oxford University Press. Gambell, T., & Hunter, D. (2000).Surveying gender differences in Canadian school literacy. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 32, 689–719. Goodson, I. & Sikes, P. (2001). Life History Research in Educational Settings.Learning from lives. Buckingham: Open University Press. Massey, D. (2005). For Space. London: Sage. Gambell, T., & Hunter, D. (2000). Surveying gender differences in Canadian school literacy. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 32, 689–719. Mishler, E. G. (1999). Storylines: Craftartists’ narratives of identity. Cambridge,Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.
European Conference on Educational Research ECER 2015 "Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research", September 7-11, Budapest, Hungary