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Reader response theory and ethical possibilities: An investigation into student readers' moral judgements and their interpretation of a short literary text

Harlow, Christopher Vincent (2001) Reader response theory and ethical possibilities: An investigation into student readers' moral judgements and their interpretation of a short literary text. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

This study revisions reader response theory as a process for understanding possibilities for students’ critical engagement with moral issues in classroom settings. The study has both a theoretical and an empirical research focus. Within the context of ethical and moral development theory, changes in literary criticism and theory during the last sixty years have been discussed and critiqued. Two distinct methods of approach have been identified: the liberal humanist and the poststructuralist. From these two theoretical perspectives, research frameworks were developed to carry out qualitative empirical research into moral judgments made by forty three senior high school students as they responded to Brecht’s short literary text Two Sons. Thus the study examines the relationship between ethics, literature and reader response theory by identifying, investigating and using two distinct perspectives that inform methodological positions.

Both the theoretical and empirical research findings indicate that moral judgment is a highly complex process that draws on both the cognitive and the affective domain. Certain theoretical approaches to the interpretation of literary texts within the liberal humanist tradition highlighted the importance of the reader in the production of meaning. However, an analysis of relevant poststructuralist theory combined with a second analysis of the student responses using interpretive strategies developed from poststructuralist theory indicates that a revisioned reader response theory needs to take more account of contingency, the context in which moral issues occur and the ambiguous nature of language if we are to help our students develop critical sensitivities to moral issues. The study concludes with ways this work may be included by teachers in their pedagogical practices.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Bell, James
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/52852
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