How collective reading practices shape and subvert gender identities
Sociology EHESS Paris, France
This presentation aims at showing how collective reading practices, grounded on exchange of books and on talks about books, shape gender identities. We will emphasize on how the technologies of taste construct what we could call a caring self, as the sociologist Beverley Skeggs named the construction of oneself based on caring, in opposition to the concept of the possessive individual. The theoretical frame that we will use is inspired by the way Beverley Skeggs links up feminist theory of ethics of care with the Foucaldian concept of caring of oneself.
We will focus on three reading clubs, in contemporary France, in Lyon. The reader club A is grounded on oral reading of short abstracts of novels and poetry. The club B is based on talks about novels or essays and takes place in a public library. Last, the club C is a BookCrossing group: it means that members release books in public places, but most of the time they exchange books between them upon an Internet site. Middle-class women are the most numerous and implicated members.
Reader clubs members are characterized by their caring for oneself. Caring for oneself is necessarily caring for the others and women, by their gender socialization, are more likely to develop a caring self, including in reading practices. These reading practices, grounded on caring, can be inverted in a personal project. This project can be the creation of a literary site, it can be going on writing for several members, and it can also be a professional project. By holding up a caring self, collective reading practices enable to challenge gender boundaries, even if some divisions remain about writing and being a literary judge. Indeed, the trajectories of reader clubs members do not fit with gendered divisions at the time when they take part in the clubs. And the very configuration of reader clubs, in extenso a public space where women are more numerous and qualified, could challenge the gender system, if more men stayed in these clubs.