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Reading, traditions and negotiations: Reading activities in Swedish classrooms 1967-1969

This project is designed to create new insights into and a new understanding of the Swedish reading culture of the 20th century. Through the analysis of a unique historical collection of sound and video recordings of a large number of primary school lessons from the late 1960’s the project will create a strong platform from which to discuss change in the reading practices of children today.

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Over the course of the 20th century, a culture of popular reading developed in Sweden. From the beginning, the broadening of reading culture was associated with democratic values and, in pace with the growth of the service economy, the need for an educated workforce also emphasised the economic value of developing a broader reading culture. Today’s technologies for the production, distribution and use of written texts are being engrafted into the reading culture which was formed in the post war era and the future of reading in light of this technological development is intensely debated. In order to better understand changes in contemporary reading practices, we need an understanding of historical reading practices. This project will contribute to such an understanding.

It is through understanding past values and traditions associated with reading that we can understand contemporary developments in reading and media practices and interpret them as future threats or possibilities. The purpose of this project is to illuminate 20th century reading culture in Sweden through an investigation of how reading was enacted and negotiated in Swedish classrooms during the 1960’s in a time characterised by the growth of the welfare state, economic development and political turbulence.

Schools are central institutions in terms of the mediation and negotiation of skills, practices and values pertaining to reading. The Swedish compulsory school was new and developing during the period studied. Today, reading in schools can be studied using a wide variety of methods, including the study of real time reading through observations and video recordings. In the research of the history of reading, other methods have, for obvious reasons, been used to explore reading as a historical phenomenon.

In this project, the history of reading is investigated in an innovative way, as it is based on audio and video recordings from 1967-1969, conducted in 80 Swedish primary school classrooms. The recordings were originally conducted within a research project at the University of Gothenburg, called Didactic Process Analysis. Through digital access to these recordings, we are given the opportunity to study reading in primary school, both as a historical phenomenon and as everyday interaction. Thus, this project combines a student perspective, which is often sought after in contemporary classroom research, with an interest in the history of reading.