Reading Studies; Interdisciplinary Research Methods
My ORCID provides further detail.
I'm a Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, and I live and work on Treaty 6 and Metis territory. My major areas of research are contemporary cultures of reading, Canadian literature and interdisciplinary research methods that combine textual and empirical modes of investigation. I have other interests in popular culture, YA literature/culture, book history and publishing. Before arriving at the University of Alberta in July 2018 I worked for nearly 21 years at the University of Birmingham, UK, in the Department of American & Canadian Studies (1997-2014) and then in the Department of English Literature (2014-18).
I was an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK (2018-2021).
I am an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta (2021-2024).
Recent Research Projects and Grants
2016-2018 (PI) £537,225, ESRC, UK: ‘Death Before Birth: Understanding, informing and supporting the choices made by people who have experienced miscarriage, termination, and stillbirth.' ES/N008359/1. Co-Is Professor Jeannette Littlemore (English Language & Applied Linguistics, U of Birmingham) [PI from May 2018] and Dr Sheelagh McGuiness (Law, U of Bristol). Partners: Human Tissue Authority; SANDS; Miscarriage Association; Ante-Natal Results and Choices.
2017-18: (PI) £15,000, Arts Council England. Grants for the Arts. 'Babbling Beasts: Telling Stories, Making Digital Games. Creative Reading and Writing for Life.' R&D Pilot project. Co-Is John Sear (Games Designer, Museum Games), Roz Goddard (poet- educator), Prof. DeNel Rehberg Sedo (MSVU, Canada). Partners: Old Hill Primary School, Sandwell, BMAG, U of Birmingham.
2017-2018: $25,000, SSHRC Partner Engage. 'Making the Move: Reading Memoirs of Migration.' PI Prof Julie Rak (U of Alberta);Co-Is, Fuller, Prof Amy Kaler (U of Alberta), Prof DeNel Rehberg Sedo (MSVU, Canada) and Dr Anna Poletti (Utrecht). Partner: World University Service of Canada (WUSC).
What I research
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.
How I research
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.
How I make sense of what I do:
My research projects and publications can be grouped into four areas:-
Reading Communities and Cultures of Reading in the USA, Canada and UK
Making Digital Things – Building as Reading Research
Atlantic Canadian Literary Culture
Mixed Methods Research and Feminist Epistemology
I have supervised postgraduate research on Maritime Canadian short fiction; on the publishing history and institutionalisation of Margaret Atwood’s work in Central Europe; South-East Asian Canadian literature; Canadian film; Asian-American film, and an inter-textual study of Canadian women’s writing. More recently I have supervised PhD work on the outport novel as a core genre in Newfoundland literature; US lesbian feminist textual communities and lesbian pulp fictions (1950s); a study of globalisation in the oeuvre of Douglas Coupland; ‘Marketing Exoticism’: Mixed Race Identities and Contemporary British Fiction, and an examination of contemporary diasporic YA fiction.
I would particularly like to encourage you to contact me if you are interested in:
• Readers and reading in the contemporary period
• Book events, book festivals and arts organizations involved with print culture and/or online publishing
• Canadian prose writing (including US/Canadian contemporary comparative projects)
The 'sage on the stage' is not a teaching style that sits well with who I am or what I believe. For many years I have been using learning and teaching activities that can broadly be grouped under the approach described as student-centred learning. Put simply, I try not to blurt on for too long during any teaching session and I frequently integrate hands-on activities and small group work to stimulate discussion. I also design courses so that students can learn, consolidate and demonstrate different skills. Reading and writing are both fundamental but critical thinking, creative design, the ability to be an independent researcher and team-work are among the skills I think you can develop during an English Studies degree.
Undergraduate courses I taught at the University of Birmingham, UK included: Introduction to Canadian Studies, Research Skills in American & Canadian Studies, Contemporary Canadian Writing, The North American 1920s, Reading & Popular Culture, and, at the MA level, Textualities and Materialities.
I have supervised final year undergraduate dissertations (a bit like Honors Tutorials) on a wide range of topics including popular genre fiction (from romance to crime fiction); the ways that social media has shaped the relationship between fan-readers and authors; reading for well-being; young adult readers; the representation of mental illness in popular television series; indigenous Canadian anthologies; many twentieth- and twenty-first century American and Canadian literature topics; and Canadian Studies subjects from visual art to politics.
A survey of literatures in what is now Canada. Prerequisite: *6 of junior English, or *3 of junior English plus WRS 101 or 102.Winter Term 2022
Studies in the social and cultural histories of reading, and to the critical concepts and methods key to its study, that emphasizes the relationship between reading and the production of culture. Prerequisite: *6 of junior English, or *3 of junior English plus WRS 101 or 102. Note: not to be taken by students with credit in ENGL 209.Winter Term 2022
Reading Bestsellers is a current project with my long-term research collaborator. We are conducting some empirical research with readers in order to write a minigraph for Cambridge University Press's Elements series on Publishing and Book Culture (Series Editor: Dr Samantha J Rayner).
This project is under contract.
Abstract from our proposal:
The purchasing decisions of ordinary readers determine whether or not a book becomes a bestseller. In a transmedia environment, however, bestselling fiction is just one among many popular genres competing for readers’ attention. This book will look at how and why readers locate, select, and share their reading of bestsellers. It will also examine what role social media plays for readers in the discovery of bestsellers, choices about reading formats and devices, and the evaluation of specific bestselling titles. As a platform that enables users to collect items in different media, as well as to write and share responses, a Bookstagram/Instagram case study provides a snapshot of multimodal reading acts and practices. The book incorporates theories about genres of social action and concepts from fan studies in order to examine how media affordances, textual genres and fan practices shape the relationship between readers and bestsellers.
2019 to 2019
With Professor Claire Squires (U of Stirling) and Dr Beth Driscoll (U of Melbourne)
In addition to our presentations, this session at the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (at UMass Amherst) includes an interactive workshop featuring 6 activities inspired by our recent research about the Frankfurt book fair (Claire and Beth) and 'Babbling Beasts' (me and DeNel Rehberg Sedo). It's fun making the props and instructions - and we'll try to take some photos!
Panel title: Making, Doing and Moving: Creative and Arts-based Methods for Contemporary Book Culture Research
Panel Abstract: How can we use creative activities to investigate complex formations and manifestations of contemporary reading and publishing cultures? In this panel we present a series of ongoing research and design experiments that employ arts-based methods including creative writing, game-making, and storytelling. The practices of making and doing we explore involve material objects like paper, sticky notes, Fortune Fish and cardboard boxes, as well as digital tools including laser devices for measurement and Near Field Communication cards. Moving parts range from bodies playing in a school hall, to the exchange of book contracts across an exhibition space.
The methods we examine, then, involve both ‘media migrations’ between print and digital forms, and ‘textual migration and exchange’ within and across a series of educational spaces and commercial sites located in Germany, Australia and the UK. However, our projects are also problematised by factors including the use of English within constituencies where decolonization is an emergent imperative and some of whose members are multilingual. Although investigative activities that incorporate doing and making can shift power relations between researchers and participants, de-centre the researchers from interpretive work, and disrupt ideological norms and social codes, we ask what are the limits of playful, creative activity? We hope that our colleagues will want to discuss how games, crafts and stories might contribute to the articulation of epistemologies that, rather than simply offering a fun ‘time-out’ from them, change Euro or Anglocentric ways of knowing.
In September 2020 I was happy to join the Board of the Canadian Literature Centre as the representative for the Department of English & Film Studies.Home page, Canadian Literature Centre
2020 to 2021
Stories from Silence is a practice-oriented invention/happening imagined with Prof Lin Snelling who is a wonderful dancer, choreographer and critical thinker in the Drama Dept. at UoA. We were inspired by the initial event for the Stories of Change signature area of research (one of several within the Arts Faculty) to create a low-stakes way of bringing researchers together. We are both interested in embodied ways of knowing and sought to create a space and activities that would invite participants to relax, slow down and be quiet. The initial event was designed for the visualisation lab in the Cameron Library for 27 March 2020 but was cancelled due to Covid-19. We re-imagined our research spa for digital delivery and ran a successful version on 6 November 2020.
Here's the ad we ran for our November 2020 event:
Stories of Change Lunch Container
Stories from Silence: Resting, Reflecting, Retelling
Friday 6 November 2020, 12.30-1.30pm
Tired of peering at screens? Run down? Overwhelmed? Dreading the winter? Join us for a research sharing event with a difference.
We invite you to join us in our research spa, now re-imagined from its pre-Covid version into an environment and experience that you can create in your home (with a little help from us). Relax in a quiet, calm atmosphere. Lie down and rest. Relax. Listen to the sounds created for us by Michael Frishkopf. Maybe take a nap. Reflect on any ideas through movement or on paper. See what stories emerge when your body slows down and you allow yourself to take a creative breathing space.
We invite colleagues at all career stages to join us for this research creation-inspired ‘lunch container’ and to explore with us the notion of embodied stories and silent states of being.