"The Poem Opened a Door to… Something": Investigating Transformative Reading in Shared Reading Groups for Cancer Patients

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Tine Riis Andersen

:classical_building: Affiliation: The Reading Center, University of Stavanger

Title: “The Poem Opened a Door to… Something”: Investigating Transformative Reading in Shared Reading Groups for Cancer Patients

Abstract A transformative reading experience is when “both text and reader are mutually modified (Fiahlo, 2019). This understanding, that the text, and especially, the reader is modified, e.g., through self-modifying feelings (Fialho, 2012; Kuiken 2004), will be central for this conference paper which presents instances of transformative reading in and between Shared Reading sessions for cancer patients. Experimental studies have found that life-crises increase the likelihood of transformative reading experiences that alters the self through expressive enactment (Kuiken et al, 2004; Tangerås, 2018). As cancer patients are going through a significant life change, they might be particular prone to transformative reading. This paper is based on data from two groups of 16-weeks (one online and one physical) for cancer patients (N=13) carried out in Norway Sep. 2021-Jan 2022. Transcripts from selected sessions and participant’s audio diaries recorded at home between sessions will be analyzed using qualitative coding. Moreover, quantitative data of reader responses have been collected by using “The Experiencing Questionnaire” (Kuiken et al., 2012) and the “Aesthetic Emotions Scale” (Schindler et al., 2018) to locate the occurrence of self-modifying feelings (Fialho, 2012; Kuiken, 2004) in response to specific texts. The study found that transformation often happened through strong attachment (Felski, 2020) to a text. The participants from the study reported that the text stayed ‘inside’ of them and that the text ‘kept coming back’ to their mind. The active verbs used by the participants suggests that transformation took place in participants between sessions and that the text has some kind of ‘agency’. This also showed in situations where concrete poems or short stories moved and inspired the participants to think, act and share in and outside the reading group. Developing children’s socioemotional skills through picturebooks.



@tineriis thank you for that great look into your very interesting data! During your presentation I started to wonder about the notion of transformation for people with a cancer diagnosis in particular. I think it is safe to say (but please correct me if I am wrong @tineriis) that cancer patients are undergoing something transformative in itself (i.e., their diagnosis, their treatment, the way their loved ones are treating them, etc). It almost seemed as if certain aspects of the shared reading activity for them were transforming in the sense that the participants felt like themselves again (before their cancer diagnosis). Do you think we could interpret some of their comments in that way? And if yes, how would that influence the Transformative Reading model in this particular context?

Thank you, @moniek.kuijpers for a very interesting question. I will just give it some general reflections here and then I am looking forward to discuss it with you at the symposium. I think you are definitely right to say that cancer patients are undergoing a transformation and might also be particularly prone to transformative reading experiences (crisis theory is proposing that). I think what might be central is that they in the reading group activates and bring their past experiences to the present. In that way you could say that the participants were working with reconnecting and re-interpretating their past selves in the light of their present situation and to integrate their illness, as an disruptive an evasive life event, into their life story - to create a balance between their past and present. There is a quote by Arthur Frank that talks about how the being diagnosed with cancer can be experienced as a disruption in the person’s life and narrative, where ‘the present is not what the past was supposed to lead to and the future becomes uncertain’ (Frank, 1995, p. 59). So maybe in the reading group the participants are working with reconnecting (and re-interpretating) the past, the present and the future. I hope that was an answer to your question?

From the zoom chat during Tine’s Q&A:

18:01:21 From Emily Troscianko to Everyone:

Thanks Tine. I’d be interested in what you would expect if you used narratives that included cancer experiences: would nothing much happen, or something bad (or something differently good)?

18:06:10 From Tine Riis Andersen to Everyone:

Thanks for the question, Emily. This is just a guess based on what my participants said. They talked about maybe block emotionally if they had to talk about cancer. So I think it was important to introduce a space for them where they were not limited in talking about their cancer. With texts that not directly was about cancer, they could decide themselves how much of their cancer story they wanted to share (and she sharing happened more naturally when the imagery or words reflected their illness experiences). I would love to talk with you more about this.

18:08:03 From Emily Troscianko to Everyone:

Thanks, yes, it makes a lot of sense that the perceived agency v coercion factor could be crucial

From the zoom chat during the symposium Q&A:

18:12:46 From Elizabeth Oldfather to Everyone:

I have a question about the valence of these transformative experiences. While it would be terrific if reading should always promote understandings that lead to positive outcomes, have you all considered issues of learning “wrong” lessons, of identificatory processing that leads to catastrophizing thought rather than helpful…? Thinking of e.g. work on narrative self as including not only meaning-making but also narratives of “everything in my life turns good to bad” (can’t remember technical term)

18:14:35 From Willie Van Peer to Everyone:

Completely agree, Elizabeth. There’ll be a piece of research on that by Massimo Salgaro & colleagues in the October issue of the Journal of Literary Semantics.

18:14:51 From Nigel Fabb to Everyone:

I had the same question as Elizabeth about negative transformations and the relation between these notions of transformation to longstanding anxieties about the negative consequences of reading

18:15:12 From Elizabeth Oldfather to Everyone:
Thank you Willie, I will look for it!

18:15:19 From Nigel Fabb to Everyone:
e.g., the ‘Werther’ effect (reading the book made people kill themselves).

18:15:55 From Willie Van Peer to Everyone:
Salgaro et al showed how certain writings may enhance sympathy for Nazi characters….

18:16:08 From dennis kinlaw to Everyone:
Are there studies which consider transformative effects in longer narrative forms (the novel) in comparison to shorter forms (stories, poems)?

And here are the questions the presenters of the symposium came up with themselves to stimulate discussion:

How to pinpoint transformative effects?

How to adapt the transformative reading framework to account for effects not elicited by the text, but rather by reading context (e.g., shared reading, education), by reading habits or other individual differences or life experiences?

How can we take these “extra-textual” factors into account in empirical studies on transformative reading?

When studying transformative reading empirically, how do we determine what a transformative reading experience is (and what it is not)?

When is something “big” enough to be counted as transformative?

How broad should we consider the concept of transformation in the study on transformative reading?