viernes, 29 de abril de 2016

Diverse Realities: A deeper look at surveys and research on reading in Mexico

For this entry we enlisted the help of Cutzi L.M. Quezada who is now part of our research team. Cutzi holds a Master's Degree in European, American and Postcolonial Languages and Literatures from the Università Ca’Foscari di Venezia. Since 2015 she has been part of the doctoral programme ‘Letras Modernas’ at the Universidad Iberoamericana with research on the picturebook collection ‘Los Especiales de A la Orilla del Viento’ published by the FCE. She is also participates in the National Programme ‘Salas de Lectura’ in the Mexican Ministry of Culture, with the group ‘Rayuela de Letras’.
For some years, both government institutions and NGOs in Mexico have shown a special interest in the reading habits of the population and during 2015, the results of the two most recent surveys at national level were disseminated. The first were from the study carried out by the Ministry of Education (SEP) and CONACULTA (now the Ministry of Culture), in both urban and rural areas, with a population from the age of 12 upwards. It included the theme of writing as well as some elements of digital reading and is therefore known as the National Reading and Writing Survey 2015-2018. The second was carried out under the leadership of IBBY Mexico with the support of publishing and educational institutions and particularly Banamex (Nacional Bank of Mexico). Its particular focus was on consumer habits and the use of digital media between 12 and 29 years of age but only in urban areas; this is the First National Survey on the Use of Digital Media and Reading.
Among the general objectives of the survey carried out by the government, was finding out about ‘the practices and habits of reading and writing’ in the country as well as to develop public policies to promote reading. [1]  In case of IBBY/Banamex’s survey, the aim was to ‘identify the consumer habits and the use of digital media among young Mexicans’,[2] along with finding out about the impact that digital media has had on reading culture, how it cohabits with printed media and what interests and needs of young people are satisfied through reading digital and printed media.
Given the importance of these surveys, we decided to go back to (see blog entry from 14 January 2016) some of the most relevant results of these surveys related to the ages of 12-15 in order to consider them along with the our findings on the Reading Changes project. Although the qualitative aspects are not comparable, the qualitative aspects of our research allow us to delve into some of the findings. The following observations have resulted from this deeper look.
Both national surveys can be considered complementary, at least for the sector between 12 and 29 years of age. However, within the IBBY/Banamex survey, young people between 12 and 14 represent 19% of the sample, while in the SEP/CONACULTA survey, those between 12 and 17 represent only 14.23%. This sector is therefore not well represented, despite the fact that it is a critical one in terms of reading practices.
The results of the surveys claim that more reading is done between the ages of 12 and 17 than in later years (even if, according to IBBY/Banamex, they don’t identify as, or aspire to be, readers – something we also noted in our study). Also, according to IBBY/Banamex, 61% of young people between 14 and 15 read for mainly for pleasure or entertainment and SEP/CONACULTA informs us that at this age 4.2 books are read per year for pleasure compared to the average of 3.5 books in the rest of the population. In our study we also found evidence that readers approach literary texts for pleasure or entertainment (a motivation that is therefore not exclusive to digital media).
On the other hand, in this phase the decline and even abandonment of the reading habit also begins. In addition, in Mexico, school attendance decreases with age, and particularly from the age of 15, from which it goes down from 90% to 60%.[3] This period therefore represents a final opportunity for institutional mediators to influence and fortify reading habits and to make the most of, and maintain, the pleasure factor related to this activity. However, in order to do so, it is necessary for these mediators and the wider public to reflect on what is understood by ‘reading’ at the start of the 21st century.
One surprising aspect of these surveys was that, given most efforts around reading promotion and mediation in the country are directed at younger children, neither included children younger than 12 years old. We believe there is an urgent need to include this population in reading surveys in order to make sense of current changes.
Another observation we would like to stress has been expertly made by Néstor García Canclini, a renowned anthropologist who works in Mexico and who led the publication of an important study in 2015, Hacia una antropología de los lectores (Towards an anthropology of readers), together with a team of researchers and expert consultants in the field of reading. It responded, in the first instance, to the alarmist surveys of SEP/CONACULTA from 2006 and 2015[4] which emphasized the number of books published and read and used instruments which García Canclini calls ‘bookcentric surveys’. This anthropologist’s enquiries centred on two key ideas: the exchange or social organization of readers: ‘how readers from different societies, ages and formation –in different formats: paper or digital- and how they interact in the school at work or in everyday communication. How different readers organize themselves […] to find out and communicate about new publications, from Internet sites or social networks.’ (XIII)
This aligns with the reading groups or communities from our project that encouraged the exchange and socialization between participants through actions in which the mediator was an interested agent, responsible for the respectful and stimulating process of the interaction. In Reading Changes, we applied our interest to specific groups of readers in secondary schools (urban and semi-rural) to derive our knowledge from them, in a clear and direct manner, while trying at the same time to have them reflect on their reading experience by noticing the many things they read daily and thus desacralizing the act of reading and locating it in the everyday and beyond printed books. This discovery widened their perspective of the act of reading and removed the stigma of not being considered a reader according to more traditional views. So, as García Canclini argues, knowing how to read today means ‘understanding how we can manage and prioritize heterogeneous contents in the exuberance of contemporary information. Filtering, discriminating and choosing.’ (20)
Finally, another problem with these surveys and other studies is that the changes in reading supposedly due to the digital era are often generalized and applied to the whole population. From our own research, we realized that the use of the Internet, computers, electronic tablets and smartphones is not as widespread as it is usually believed: only a few of those young people owned one of these devices and again, only a few had Internet at home. We observed that their relationship with reading continues to be mainly through the printed word leading us to speculate that the 14 to 15 year olds we worked with are actually still part of a ‘generation in transition’: they know about the digital world and have some access to it but it is not yet an integral part of their daily lives or reading experiences. The findings from the surveys, mainly, that 8 out of 10 young people (IBBY/Banamex) or 77.8% of the general population have internet in their homes (SEP/CONACULTA), did not reflect what we found, perhaps because the national studies concentrated on urban areas. Even García Canclini’s study was limited to Mexico City and therefore to a population which is very different from the rest of the country (it is enough to note that in this city there are 470 bookshops and although they are few compared to the total population, there are still many more than in the provinces).
In a country with such different ‘realities’ as Mexico, with huge economic inequality, care must be taken when making generalizations about how reading is changing and it is important to complement quantitative studies with qualitative research, with specific groups of readers, beginning at a younger age and in diverse geographical locations.
Cutzi L.M. Quezada, Laura Guerrero y Evelyn Arizpe
Encuesta nacional de lectura y escritura 2015-2018. México: SEP/CONACULTA, 2015. PDF. 24 Feb. 2016. <>
García Canclini, Néstor et. al. Hacia una antropología de los lectores. Madrid, México: Fundación Telefónica, UAM, 2015.
Presentación de la Encuesta nacional de lectura y escritura 2015-2018. México: SEP/CONACULTA, 2015. PDF. 24 Feb. 2016. <>
Primera encuesta nacional sobre consumo de medios digitales y lectura. México: IBBY/Banamex, 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. <>

[4] The IBBY/Banamex study was released at the end of 2015.

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