American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 417–454 | Cite as

Reading matters: Towards a cultural sociology of reading

  • María Angélica Thumala OlaveEmail author
Original Article


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.


reading fiction reflexivity self ethics emotions 



Part of this research was funded by the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh through its Strategic Research Support Fund. I am grateful to Mary Holmes, Steve Kemp, Jonathan Hearn, Charles Turner, Wendy Griswold, Jeffrey Alexander, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology, School of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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