Embodiment and agency in digital reading: Preschoolers making meaning with literary apps
This dissertation investigates meaning-making in children’s joint-reading transactions with literary apps. The analysis of meaning-making focuses on embodiment as a central aspect of literary app’s texts and their reading and on children’s negotiation of agency in the act of joint-reading. Meaning-making is understood through a multimodal social semiotics perspective, which considers that meaning is realised in the dynamic transaction between reader, text and social context. Therefore, the dissertation integrates the analysis of the apps and of the children’s responses to capture the dynamics of meaning-making in such transactions. Case studies were conducted with six families, who read the apps The Monster at the End of This Book (Stone & Smollin, 2011) and Little Red Riding Hood (Nosy Crow, 2013) in an English public library. The central method of data collection involved video-recorded observations of parent-child joint-reading events, complemented by graphic elicitation, informal interviews and a questionnaire. The video data was analysed through multimodal methods. The findings indicate that the participant readers used their bodies not only as a material point of contact and activation of the interactive features but also as a resource for meaning-making in their transactions with the apps. The reader’s body was essential in their engagement with the material and interactive affordances of the apps, in reader’s expressions of their responses, and in the sharing of the reading experience with the parents. The body of the reader, through spontaneous and interactive gestures, is a mode of communication in the multimodal ecologies of both the text and the reader’s responses. Furthermore, the child readers constantly negotiated their agency within the constraints posed by the text, which include the narrative itself and its interactive features, and those posed by the joint-reading situation. The bodies of the readers played an essential role in this dual negotiation of agency. Children’s agency was scripted, that is, the readers exerted their agency within the limitations of a script. The script, however, allowed readers to improvise, and their performances also involved resistance to the script through playful subversion. In the joint-reading event, children’s agency was foregrounded, positioning the children as protagonist readers, who performed most of the interactions and lived the aesthetic experience of the text fully, to the expense of their parents, who mostly participated as supporting readers, transferring their agency to the children through scaffolding.