Reading & Discussion: Inner and Outer Circles, Identity & Gender

Inner and Outer Circles: Engaging and Observing

Last week we discussed various ways to talk about reading. Heading in to the session, I couldn’t really imagine how Socratic Seminars might work outside of a classroom environment.  While I still think that they would likely do best/be most appropriate for that setting, our discussion made me think a lot more about how elements of Socratic discussion/seminars might help with book groups that exist beyond the classroom.

Although it seemed that the “inner circle” of discussion participants and the “outer circle” of discussion observers (who also provided feedback) was somewhat of a result of lots of students in one classroom, I kept trying to imagine that inner and outer circle applied to almost any discussion.

I like the idea that for a time, it’s one’s job to observe carefully and to contribute to the discussion by providing feedback on the dynamics of the discussion itself. Observation — a time to be less oriented towards jumping in “performing” in discussion, and engaging — that seems really valuable to balance against the actual discussion in the “inner circle.”

Of course, there is a switch between inner and outer circle, and then active and observer roles are flipped, but this gives people a chance to be in both roles and see where they might excel. It gives people a chance to explore different ways to add value to a larger discussion group.

Do you think that specific observer and “discussant” roles could be helpful in places other than in a Socratic Seminar? 

Are there other areas in your life where “inner circle” and “outer circle” (and flipping those circles) are relevant?

Gender, Identity, and Who Book Clubs are “For”

The other significant idea from discussion that I’m still mulling over is that of book clubs-and-gender. In talking about book clubs, we came up against the idea that often the term “book club” is perceived as something particularly for women. We tried to pick apart just why this might be.  Was it because way-back-when, book clubs were often ways for ladies-who-lunched and new moms to get out and about for some social interaction?  Was it all because of darn Oprah?  In class, men and women alike lamented that having an “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker on the front of their book made them feel like they had to defend the fact that they were reading the book because it was good, not just because Oprah said so! Do women just read more of the genres that are traditionally served by book clubs — things like fiction?

How can we (and should we) shift this perception?  Are there ways we can go about making book discussion and talking about reading more accessible and comfortable for more people? And to the people who argue that men just don’t talk passionately about what they read — I’d invite them to visit a comic shop on a Wednesday to see the heated discussion that both men and women get into about latest issues of new comics!

Do you see book clubs are somewhat gendered? Are there ways to change this?

If you’re not or have never been a member of a reading discussion group — why haven’t you found them a good fit? Do you have any desire to talk about things that you read — from articles to comics to professional development-related materials, to novels?

Beyond just gender, do you see book clubs are just something “not for people like me”?


4 thoughts on “Reading & Discussion: Inner and Outer Circles, Identity & Gender

  1. I think the idea of participant and observer roles in other settings beyond Socratic Seminars is really useful to think about as time goes on. I’ve been dipping my toes into the latest Pew Internet study:

    and I’ve been wondering about two of its findings:
    1. the report’s sense that teens are likely to grow up to have less patience than previous generations

    2. its articulation that society may have two “classes” – those who think and take in information quickly and those who can step back, ponder, and take the long view.

    And I’ve been wondering what the implications of those two statements are for education. Should education just speed up? I don’t think so, because we’ll never get the kinds of deep thinking we need for sustained stability as institutions/cultures/governments/society. So how do we extend their patience? Your articulation of having times when students might be participants and others where they might simply observe might be a step in that direction.

    Just thinking aloud … haven’t finished reading it yet … I just think there’s something powerful going on that we are underestimating as educators and librarians …

    1. Kristin – I’ve been saving that study on my Kindle, hoping to dig into it soon. At this rate, it might be a few days, but I thin that your questions give me a helpful set of things to keep in the back of my mind while reading through.

      In terms of speed and deep thinking, I agree that there is a lot to both consider and observe here. I’m not sure that we just adapt by speeding up the pace of education. That might work to some degree, and with some things, but I also think that it’s a bigger question of what qualities we see (as a culture, as educators, as people in a democracy) as worth actively cultivating. Doe those include patience? Empathy? If so, how the heck *do* we practically help people cultivate those skills, and how do we make sure that we’re truly encouraging patience and not passivity?

      Big questions! I don’t have answers, but I have to say that seeing danah boyd speak yesterday has given me even more to think about in relation to the theme of attention in particular (her talk was on fear in networks, but it was also very much about attention and pace). I think it figures in, but I haven’t figured out how best to articulate my main questions or hypotheses yet.

  2. I spent some time mulling over the book clubs/gender question, too. I have never been part of a formal book club, though I spent almost two years talking about literature during an English master’s program. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but I think I make a distinction among the types of materials I enjoy discussing with a wider audience. More specifically, I really love debating current events, news articles, and social trend stories — and many of my conversations about these happen in online forums (like Facebook). But I’m less interested in discussing fiction with people I don’t know — maybe because I get more emotionally attached to the text itself, whereas with nonfiction or news, I’m more interested in debating the rhetorical stance and the underlying ideas.

    1. Kelly — I like your breakdown here of which types of writing you’re more/less interested in discussing online. Your outline of your own background also made me realize that the only semi-formal book club I’ve been in was a very personal collection of women who were mostly former lit/writing majors. So we were coming at the discussion of the text from a somewhat similar place (in terms fo expectations and norms, I guess).

      I agree that I feel more apt to discuss articles or current events type pieces online. Often for me, the discussion is fairly brief, not too deep, and is the result of the initial sharing of an article of interest. I think it’s possible that as I start to blog more myself, I might become more engaged in a longer-form discussion rather than simply being a lurker (I am a big-time blog reader but seldom comment).

      I’m not sure if I would enjoy talking about fiction or poetry online. My gut tells me not-so-much. It’s not that I’m resistant to the idea, it’s just that I feel I already have people in my life who I can discuss these things with in person or on the phone. And sometimes, frankly, fiction feels so personal to me that I don’t even want to discuss it much at all! It very much depends on the particular work in question, I think.

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