I have always been interested in the ways that people make sense of their everyday lives and how lived experience is a type of knowledge that is often ignored or side-lined by people with the most power in a society. Everything I investigate is shaped in some way by these concerns and by an approach to research that might broadly be described as that of feminist epistemology. So far, my research career has been comfortingly unpredictable and continuously unsettling: fruitful conditions for knowledge production, I believe. Things that I think about and work on include: questions of literary and cultural value within and beyond writing and reading communities; enquiries about the role reading plays in peoples’ lives; understanding the decisions and choices people make after pregnancy loss about the disposal of remains.
I was trained as a literary studies scholar and began my academic career as a Canadian Studies specialist. Over the years my research became more like cultural sociology in its use of empirical methods, but I remain committed to work that combines these with textual methods – and indeed, with other ways of working, doing and knowing from multiple disciplines. My absolute favourite thing intellectually speaking is working with interdisciplinary scholars and arts practitioners to investigate complex contemporary social and cultural issues.
Reading communities and cultures of reading in the USA, Canada and UK
“Beyond the Book: Mass Reading Events and Contemporary Cultures of Reading in the UK, USA and Canada” was an ambitious interdisciplinary trans-Atlantic investigation of shared reading events, which was funded for 3 years by the AHRC (2005-8) and undertaken in collaboration with DeNel Rehberg Sedo (Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada), a communications scholar with expertise on book groups.
A pilot fieldwork study with readers participating in a “One Book, One Community” program in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge (Canada) and with the agencies involved in the organisation of “One Book, One Chicago” was completed in October 2004, part-funded by the British Academy. This research was informed by my previous work on textual communities and my interest in issues of democratic access to cultural production. The capstone publication for the project was a monograph co-written with DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture (Routledge, 2013 & 2015). Several articles and book chapters arose from that same research project (e.g. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016). Please see the Beyond the Book website for details of articles, book chapters, podcasts, resources and more information. http://www.beyondthebook.bham.ac.uk/
Making Digital Things - Building as Reading Research
DeNel Rehberg Sedo and I continued with our work on readers and reading with a project called Reading Lives, a web-based app for adult leisure readers. This project, a collaboration with developer Tim Hodson, was initially funded by the AHRC via the CATH project within the Digital Humanities/Heritage Hub at the University of Birmingham (2013-2014) and was developed further in collaboration with Writing West Midlands at the Birmingham Literature Festival via a Grants for the Arts Award from Arts Council England (2014-5). We were also members of the AHRC-funded network on Digital Reading (2013-5).
Making Reading Lives inspired us to continue our digital adventures in collaboration with developers who know how to build stuff, and feedback we received from readers who used Reading Lives inspired another project, Reading for Life. Working with Roz Goddard, a poet and educator, and John Sear, a games maker (2016ff) we are designing a creative reading & writing model that uses John’s low-tech Babbling Beasts digital kit to enable children to tell stories and to build games as a means of exploring the fun aspects of having reading in your life. We have been supported in this work by the College of Arts & Law Impact Fund (CIF).
Other Reading Studies Projects/International Collaborations
I am a co-investigator or consultant on several international projects including:-
‘The History of Reading in Europe/EU READ Trail’, ANC Network, PI Prof. Brigitte Ouvry-Vial, U du Maine. Funded by the French Government, 2015-7; EU2020 application under review.
‘A Novel Cure – the health and well-being outcomes of creative practices in ageing.’ PI Dr Vicki Palmer, Department of General Practice, Melbourne Medical School, U of Melbourne, Australia. Funded by Melbourne Social Equity Institute & U of Melbourne Interdisciplinary Seed Funding Scheme, 2015- present.
‘Making the Move: Reading Memoirs of Migration.’ With Prof. Julie Rak (U of Alberta, Canada), Prof DeNel Rehberg Sedo (MSVU, Canada) and Dr Anna Poletti (University of Utrecht, Netherlands). Seed funding provided by KULE Institute, University of Alberta, Canada.
Atlantic Canadian literary culture
My fascination with reading, writing and publishing communities in the Atlantic region of Canada began with my PhD - research that was expanded for my book, Writing the Everyday: Women’s Textual Communities in Atlantic Canada (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2004). There, I explore how and why communities form around texts that record women’s everyday realities, histories, and traditions. My investigation of textual communities lead me to combine qualitative interviewing with studies of publishing history, social contexts, textual analysis and, most importantly, close attention to the local histories and oral cultures that many Atlantic writers draw upon in their work (evident in the poetry of Maxine Tynes, see 1999b below; and 2006).