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The #bookstagram: distributed reading in the social media age.

Thomas, B., 2021. The #bookstagram: distributed reading in the social media age. Language Sciences, 84, 101358.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.langsci.2021.101358


Social media platforms have given rise to diverse ‘reading formations’ (Bennett and Woollacott, 1987) from bespoke reading communities with strong affective bonds to the ‘ambient affiliation’ (Zappavigna, 2014) more typical of followers of reading-related hashtags (#amreading). What makes all of these formations distinctive is that they ‘bring into visibility an entirely new social dimension to reading’ (Pinder, 2012:68), and a sociality that is often reliant as much on the sharing of images as on words. This article will focus specifically on shared acts of reading on Instagram, a social networking service for sharing photographs and videos. In particular, I will explore the phenomenon of the #bookstagram where readers share images of the book they are currently reading aestheticised and personalised through the use of evocative backdrops and objects. Such activities are all too often dismissed as empty displays by narcissistic millennials keen to make their mark in the ‘attention economy’. However, I will argue that the #bookstagram offers a way for readers to share acts of reading with others in a way that evokes the sensory and the sensual, and also provides a form of ‘embodied reenactment’ (Tolins and Samermit, 2016) that can generate discussion and empathy between users. My analysis will focus on the ways in which body parts, especially hands, feature in the images to evoke a sense of an embodied connection between reader and book. I will also examine how the images create a strong sense of reading as a situated activity that is associated with calmness, serenity and being close to nature. My discussion of emerging reading practices is informed by theories which move away from an exclusive focus on reading as a series of mental processes or the decoding of signs, to consider reading as a distributed, embodied activity that involves interacting with others and one's environment. The analysis of the #bookstagram will examine how the activity can be located in relation to culturally and historically grounded practices relating to the book as object of display and to representations of reading bodies from visual art. However, I will also be arguing that the specific affordances of social media help produce readerly interactions that are dialogic and reliant on an ethos of participation where displays of intimate and private acts are routinely commented on and repurposed by others.

Item Type:Article
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:35168
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:08 Feb 2021 16:43
Last Modified:29 Jul 2022 01:08


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