Badges of Wisdom, Spaces for Being: A Study of Contemporary Women's Book Clubs

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
2004
Authors/Contributors
Abstract
This study explores the social contours and the talk within contemporary women's book clubs. The approach is interdisciplinary, drawing on theories of interpretive community, feminist epistemology, and cultural studies to illustrate the social relations of the groups as more than a sum of its readers. Ethnographic and survey methods are blended in an original interpretation of the reading motivations, practices, pleasures of five Canadian reading groups and more than 252 readers found on line. An account of the descriptive, normative and ideological concepts of book club community, the work supplies an important gap in studies of women's reading experiences in Canada. This dissertation argues: (1) that book clubs are social structures in which women are able to articulate and valorise their experiences thereby demonstrating social agency, and (2) that there is an interpretive community dimension to a reading group that unfolds over time. The readers recognise the importance of women "trusted others" in introducing them to reading, the importance of pushing personal tastes boundaries within safe spaces, and the benefit of the liberal humanist vision of learning outside of the perceived constraints of gender language, politics or power. The groups form and exist around shared genre tastes and interpretive preferences. The acquisition and negotiation of cultural competence works differently in the virtual clubs than in the face-to-face groups. Resistance is more evident in the face-toface groups than it is in a virtual club, where group membership is more fluid. This study finds rather than a kind of essentialist "sisterhood" that provides only minimal resistance to patriarchal structures, there is instead a creation of space for agency, and utopian mutual affirmation of badges of wisdom that is important to clubs in providing enrichment of daily lives. Oral and virtual culture can and does enhance literate culture, even if it does not conform to traditional conceptions of political mobilisation. The surprise of this study is that while it is useful to examine the book club as a genre of collective women's action, it is also worthwhile to examine the "book club" type title, as a new form of social expression.
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Language
English
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