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The construction of poetic meaning: A cultural-developmental study of symbolic and non-symbolic strategies in the interpretation of contemporary poetry
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Communications Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
1985 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The general aim of this research has been to study children's and adolescents' construction of poetic meaning. The theoretical frame of reference reflects the social-constructivist and phenomenologically influenced orientations of A. Schutz and P. L. Berger & T. Luckmann andthe related theories of S. Fish and D. Bleich. P. Bourdieu's theory of art perception and D. R. Olson 's theories of cognitive development provide essential elements of the cultural-developmental approach practiced.

The main study is designed to assess children's and adolescents' spontaneous interpretations of potentially sympolic poetry against the background of their aesthetic reasoning capacity and functional predispositions in the form of varius effects of the borne literary environment. The data base consists of transcribed structured and semi-structured individual interviews with 72 pupils equally divided between three age-levels: 11, 14 and 18. The interviews were supplemented with a questionnaire concerning functional predispositions.

Three general hypotheses were tested: I. The number of interpretive responses, including syrnbolic interpretations, increase with age and the degree of cultivated disposition. II. The capacity for meta-aesthetic reasoning (literary awareness) becomes increasingly advanced with ageand the degree of cultivated disposition. III. Readers with a high reasoning capacity are likely to respond symbolically whereas readers with a low reasoning capacity tend to respond literally.

The hypotheses were confirmed. The number of interpretive responses, including symbolic interpretations, increased significantly with age. A high degree of cultivated disposition (taletelling habits of the home, reading of fiction, and depth of intention in reading) emerged as predictors of performance on the symbol interpretation task. In addition it was possible to categorize the symbolic respanses according to the level of appropriation and sources of syrnbolic meaning. Various norms and strategies in the construction of poetic rueaning were discerned and described.

In a follow-up study was tested the hypothesis that poetic-graphic arrangement raises expectations of figurative or symbolic meanings in the text, and that this sensitivity to the poetic typography increases with age. The experiment was designed as a class-room administered questionnaire and comprised 144 pupils equally divided between groups of 11-, 14- and 18-yearolds, who were required to interpret in writing three contemporary poems. One half of the subjects were presented the poems in original versions, the other half the same poems typographically rearranged into "prose". The resulting data were analyzed with respect to the number of figurative and symbolic interpretations elicited.The capacity for meta-aesthetic reasoning unfolded significantly with age and the degree of cultivated disposition. A development towards increased relativism was also demonstrated. There was a significant association between the subjects' performances on the symbol interpretation task and the reasoning tasks, and between skill in interpreting symbols and use of aesthetic vocabulary.

The hypothesis was partly confirmed. Graphic arrangement had no effect in the group of eleven-year-olds, a significant effect among the fourteen-year-olds and a certain though nonsignificant effect in the oldest group.

The results of the two studies are discussed as indicating that predisposing experiences like early repeated exposure to the literary medium in the form of fairy tales, stories, songs, etc. results in a tendency to attach value to works of literature and in anability to appropriate them by means of basic norms, strategies and generic categories. Such a cultivated disposition is related to a regular and keen reading of fiction later in childhood and adolescence. This reading in turn and together with early acquaintance with fairy tales, etc. functions as a prerequisite for the appropriation of more advanced w orks of literature and for formal, systematic schooling as regards literature.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Malmö: LiberFörlag , 1985. , 202 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 2
Keyword [en]
Response to literature, Poetry interpretation, lnterpretive strategies, Literary symbols, Aesthetic development, Meta-aesthetic reasoning, Literary awareness, Metacognition
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-35331Local ID: 26365ISBN: 91-40-05139-0OAI: diva2:256179
Public defence
1986-01-27, Wallenbergssalen, Östergötlands och Linköpings Stadsmuseum, Linköping, 13:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2009-10-10 Created: 2009-10-10 Last updated: 2012-06-25Bibliographically approved

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