The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

October 3, 2010

“Viewpoints: Transaction Versus Interaction– A Terminology Rescue Operation”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 6:43 pm

This week, I read the second chapter in Louise Roseblatt’s Making Meaning with Text: Selected Essays. This chapter was a reprint of a piece originally published in the Research on the Teaching of English journal back in 1985. Roseblatt was compelled to write this piece in response to people incorrectly comparing her transactional theory of reading with other reading theories. Within this piece, she discusses the use of the terms “transaction” and “interaction,” delves into the differences “information processing” and transactional theories, and identifies how transactional theory of reading and other new paradigms will force changes in educational and literature research.

Rosenblatt uses the metaphor of a machine to describe information processing, that is machines of the post-industrial revolution days–machines with interchangeable parts!

Cotton Gin-- a machine with interchangeable parts!

In contrast, Rosenblatt see transaction as a living, growing organism, with all elements being seen as necessary for the overall development of the organism. Rosenblatt looks back to the work of John Dewey to support this notion. Dewey argues that stimuli (in the case of Roseblatt’s research, a text of some sort) has varying effects on the person involved, which is entirely dependent on the person. For example, if someone is engrossed in a book, a crash of thunder is not going to sound like much more than background noise. In contrast, someone fearful of storms might amplify the impact of a crash of thunder.

The individual is a vital part of the relationship between the person and thunder. In the case of reading, individual sensitivities impact how the text will be interpreted. For example,a reader who has experience with social awkwardness may identify that as being a factor in Bella’s friendship with Edward in Twilight, whereas the individual in the midst of a blossoming relationship may identify the notion of love at first sight being central to the understanding of Bella and Edward’s relationship.

All of this goes back to Roseblatt’s efferent and aesthetic reading stances, and a reader’s “selective attention.” Unlike information processing, which sees the personal “top” and textual “bottom” elements intersecting, Roseblatt sees the reader and the text of being unable to be separated. How the reader interprets the text is determined by their selective attention, and their selective attention is dependent on individual experiences.

Like interaction and transaction, Roseblatt addresses the use of the words “participant” and “spectator” being used synonymously with “efferent” and “aesthetic,” since they are in fact quite different ideas of reading stance. The first thing that I noticed about these terms is that “participant” and “spectator” designate a role for the reading. In contrast, “efferent” and “aesthetic” suggest a way that the text is approach, without designating a job for the reader. “Participant” and “spectator” could be more accurately used to describe a lens through which a reader looks at the text, but again, this differs from Rosenblatt’s “efferent” and “aesthetic” stances.

After a couple reading experiences with text by Rosenblatt, I am left with one lingering question, “What about people who do not like reading?” I wonder if Rosenblatt’s theory of reading is applicable for those who identify as non-readers or those who voice that they do not enjoy reading. Those readers are reading because they have to, for a decent grade, or because someone is forcing the to read. I feel it’s a stretch to say these reading experiences of an efferent nature, though the reader might be reading for information (to not flunk a test, to prove to their teacher that they did read, etc.). Does this type of reading fall under Rosenblatt’s theory?


  1. You were talking about Twilight in class tonight and I wanted to laugh. I hated Twilight (which was funny because I never even read it) and then two of my students sold me on it. I think the phrase they used was “I never knew what ‘star-crossed’ meant until reading this book”. After that, I had to read the stories. This year we are working HP and Twilight into a unit on the heroic journey and archetypes.

    Comment by Lacy Anderson — October 5, 2010 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

  2. Rachael, you did a fantastic job of explaining these ideas. I particulary found this sentence helpful: “How the reader interprets the text is determined by their selective attention, and their selective attention is dependent on individual experiences.” My mind keeps going back to the student Jeremy from _Mosaic of Thought_. I found it fascinating that he picked up on the type of gun used in the historical narration and remembered little else. Your sentence totally explains this in a very clear way for me. Thank you.

    Comment by Penny Raia — October 9, 2010 @ 8:57 am | Reply

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