Reading matters: Towards a cultural sociology of reading

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Sociologists have studied reading mostly as a product of or an input to the social structure. In so doing, they have failed to capture why reading matters to people. On the basis of the intensive practices of reading fiction among women in the UK, this article begins to develop a cultural sociology of reading by showing how the pleasures of reading fiction support processes of self-understanding, self-care, and ethical reflection. A cultural sociology of reading is necessary because these readers’ experiences of meaning-making disappear when reading is explained within the binaries escapism/confrontation, indoctrination/resistance, which frame much of the current research on reading. The discussion is based on the interpretive analysis of three bodies of data: 60 written responses by women to the UK’s “popular anthropology” project, the Mass Observation Project (M–O), participation in two women’s groups, and in-depth interviews with 13 women readers in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417–454
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • reading
  • fiction
  • reflexivity
  • self
  • ethics
  • emotions


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