RTR was written within the institutional context of U. Penn, where there was a reaction against the “great works” focus of most American Studies departments, and an emphasis on popular literature and culture instead.
- shift from sociology >> anthropology
RTR was written simultaneously with Birmingham school’s turn toward ethnographic methods (per Hoggart, Williams, Thompson & Hall)
However, JR discovered that despite its empirical qualities, ethnography can never be more than a construction of a construction. Thus, it is a useful element of an interpretive approach to culture, but not a cornerstone of scientific certainty.
Initially, focused on how her subjects interpreted romance texts, within communities of interpretation (Fish). But then she began to realize that their answers related more to the act of reading the texts, and the social aspects of the activity. This led her (unwittingly) closer to Birmingham.
Women readers viewed the act of reading romances as a ‘declaration of independence’ from the demands of their roles as wives and mothers.
I see why Radway is considered so important – she is a theoretical link between Fish, feminism, and Birmingham.
Drew on Chodorow’s psychoanalytic theory re: women’s unfulfilled longing for maternal nurturance. This need was represented (and symbolically satisfied) by the male heroes in the romance novels. Hence the androgynous quality of these heroes.
“If reading varied spatially and temporally, and one did wish to use literature in an effort to reconstruct culture, it would be necessary to connect particular texts with the communities that produced and consumed them and to make some effort to specify how the individuals involved actually constructed those texts as meaningful semiotic structures. Hence my conclusion that American studies needed ethnographies of reading.” (4)
“Were I writing Reading the Romance today, I . . . no longer would want to argue theoretically that ethnographies of reading should replace interpretation because of their greater adequacy to the task of revealing an objective cultural reality.” (5-6)
“What the book gradually became, then, was less an account of the way romances as texts were interpreted than of the way romance reading as a form of behavior operated as a complex intervention in the ongoing social life of actual social subjects, women who saw themselves first as wives and mothers.” (7)
“Similar readings are produced, I argue, because similarly located readers learn a similar set of reading strategies and interpretive codes that they bring to bear upon the texts they encounter.” (8) theoretical thesis statement
“Despite the mediations of the publishing industry, romance reading was seen by the women as a way of participating in a large, exclusively female community. Were I conducting this study today, however, I would want to compare the meaning and significance of the romance as it is inserted in the day-to-day existence of writers, editors, readers, and even feminist critics, for such a move might demonstrate the problems inherent in a simple reading off of cultural meaning or ideology from a single text.” (11) Reader agency. Polysemy even from structural perspective..
“I try to make a case for seeing romance reading as a form of individual resistance to a situation predicated on the assumption that it is women alone who are responsible for the care and emotional nurturance of others.” (12) resistance
“Does the romance’s endless rediscovery of the virtues of a passive female sexuality merely stitch the reader ever more resolutely into the fabric of patriarchal culture? Or, alternatively, does the satisfaction a reader derives from the act of reading itself, an act she chooses, often in explicit defiance of others’ opposition, lead to a new sense of strength and independence?” (15) The eternal question. Unresolved, and probably insoluble. Agency vs. structure.
“the cross-over rate from consumer to producer seems to be unusually high within this genre.” (17)