The Emerging Paradigm of Reader-Text Transaction: Contributions of John Dewey and Louise M. Rosenblatt, with Implications for Educators
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The paradigm of transaction, implicit in John Dewey's writings as early as 1896 in "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology," was originally described in terms of "interaction" between organism and environment. Only in 1949, in the twilight of his career, did Dewey definitively distinguish between "transaction" and "interaction," ascribing a mutually transformative character to the former process. In Knowing and the Known, Dewey and co-author Arthur F. Bentley (1949) proposed adoption of a wholly new "transactional vocabulary" as a precision tool for a new mode of scientific inquiry, whereby inquiry itself was recognized as a species of transaction between inquirer and observed phenomena.
Even before the publication of Knowing and the Known, literary theorist Louise M. Rosenblatt had applied an implicitly transactional model of the relationship between organism and environment to the relationship between reader and text. She described this dynamic model of the reading process in Literature as Exploration (first published in 1938), a work that has inspired an ongoing revolution in the teaching of reading and literature at all instructional levels. In the first edition of this work, Rosenblatt employed Dewey's original term--"interaction"--to describe the dynamic relationship between reader and text. Following the publication of Knowing and the Known in 1949, Rosenblatt began systematically to appropriate Dewey and Bentley's transactional terminology in her analysis of the reader-text relationship.
Educators who share the transactional vision of Dewey and Rosenblatt tend to see the role of the teacher as that of a facilitator of reader-text transaction and of reader-reader transaction as arbitrated by the text, rather than as an imparter of authoritative interpretations of texts. Envisioning potentialities for students' growth through such transactions gives rise neither to sanguine optimism nor to despair, but rather to a hopeful meliorism.
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