Reading practices in the shadows: context, text and identities

PhD Thesis

Tabbi, A. 2021. Reading practices in the shadows: context, text and identities. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Teacher Education
AuthorsTabbi, A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis provides an in-depth account of reading practices of graduates in Algeria. Significantly, the study offers fresh insights by drawing together two perspectives to understand readers: how their social environments shape reading identities and practices and the way that texts offer spaces for readers to ‘try on’ different identities, and (re)construct their own.

Regarding the relationship between readers and their social environments, this thesis shows that family and peers are among the strongest influencers of reading. They trigger and maintain readers’ interest, respectively, by validating their reading identities and making reading a ‘common’ practice. The evidence presented indicates that reading is either reinforced or challenged by the predominant cultures in public spaces, educational institutions and places of work. Struggles over whether to conform with or resist these prevailing cultural rules emerge, thereby creating shaming experiences and feelings of guilt and humiliation. The analysis indicates that participants experience conflicts when reading a particular type of book or reading in a certain language, or a given public place due to the assumed hierarchy of fiction and other texts, the correct language to use and notions about the most appropriate places to read. Despite these difficult experiences, readers themselves played an active role in reproducing these cultural reading conventions and imposing definitions on who are real and who are fake readers.

This research stresses the importance of recognising intricacy, nuance and variation, and avoiding the imposition of binary divisions between ‘reader’ and ‘non-reader’. The findings suggest that reading identities for these participants are shaped by various sub-identities – they are evident, for example, in reading in particular languages and reading the Quran. Reading identities are, hence, coloured by sub-identities, resulting in ‘mosaic reader identities’. They, in this sense, are diverse and should not be subsumed under the ‘reader’ label, with imposed forms of reading.

This in-depth qualitative interpretive study, inspired by a phenomenographic approach, offers fresh insights into reading practices. Data collection was carried out in Algeria over a period of three months, consisting of focus group discussions, individual semi-structured interviews, visual representations of perceptions and feelings about reading, and informal conversations. It involved nine graduates of various disciplines: English language studies, translation studies, medical sciences, intercultural studies, law studies, economic sciences and physics. All participants identified as multilingual. The conceptual frame that helped deepen the analysis and frame the findings comprise: Bourdieu (1986) – habitus, capital and field – and Holland et al. (1998) – identity, artefact and figured worlds, with Kamhieh’s (2012) and Gee’s (2017) notions of ‘reader-as-XYZ’ and ‘sub-type principle’ respectively, helping to enrich my thinking throughout.

The findings of this investigation have implications on readers’ social environments, as they indicate that democratising reading requires the coming together of various societal and cultural bodies, including families, peer groups, educational institutions, as well as the readers themselves. Diversity of reading practices and identities needs acknowledgement and celebration, rather than legitimisations of certain ways of reading and keeping others in the shadows.

KeywordsReading practices; Graduates; Algeria; Reading identities
File Access Level
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Publication process dates
Deposited17 Jan 2022
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