In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Reader Response Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Foundational/Seminal Texts
  • Cultural and Social Perspectives
  • Multicultural Perspectives
  • Experiential Theories of Response
  • Feminist Perspectives
  • Gender Theory
  • New Literacies and Multimodal Literacies
  • Phenomenology Theory
  • Postmodern Perspectives
  • Psychological Processes, Participant and Spectator Stances
  • Subjective Reader Response Theory
  • Transactional Theory
  • Application of the Transactional Theory
  • Critical Theories

Literary and Critical Theory Reader Response Theory
Susan Browne, Xiufang Chen, Faten Baroudi, Esra Sevinc
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0107


This annotated bibliography presents influential work in the area of reader response theory. While providing an overview of major research in the area of reader response, the annotated bibliography also provides current research representing various categories of reader response. The citations are organized by their dominant characteristics although there may be some overlap across categories.

General Overview

Reader response theory identifies the significant role of the reader in constructing textual meaning. In acknowledging the reader’s essential role, reader response diverges from early text-based views found in New Criticism, or brain-based psychological perspectives related to reading. Literacy scholars such as David Bleich, Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, and Wolfgang Iser are instrumental in crafting what has come to be known as reader response. The theory maintains that textual meaning occurs within the reader in response to text and recognizes that each reader is situated in a particular manner that includes factors such as ability, culture, gender, and overall experiences. However, according to Tomkins’s 1980 edited volume Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-structuralism, reader response is not a representation of a uniform position, but is rather a term associated with theorists whose work addresses the reader, the reading process, and textual response. Although Tompkins omits the work of Louise Rosenblatt, it is Rosenblatt’s work that has come to have a vast influence in the field of reader response. Prior to the work of the New Critics, Louise Rosenblatt wrote the now-seminal text Literature as Exploration, first published in 1938, which was distinct in emphasizing both the reader and the text. In later editions of the text, Rosenblatt draws on the work of John Dewey and shifts from the use of the word “interaction” to describe reading as a “transaction,” thus giving life to the transactional theory of reading. The references in this section, including Applebee 1992, Beach 1993, Barton 2002, and Harkin 2005, provide an overview of reader response theory.

  • Applebee, A. “The Background for Reform.” In Literature Instruction: A Focus on Student Response. Edited by J. Langer, 1–18. Champaign, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992.

    This book chapter reviews a series of studies of the elementary and secondary school curriculum, providing a rich portrait of literature instruction and suggesting a series of issues that needed to be addressed in the teaching of literature. It set the background for reform.

  • Barton, J. “Thinking about Reader-Response Criticism.” The Expository Times 113.5 (2002): 147–151.

    DOI: 10.1177/001452460211300502

    An article that outlines reader response criticism through the lens of biblical scholarly inquiry.

  • Beach, R. A Teacher’s Introduction to Reader-Response Theories. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1993.

    This book offers an in-depth review of reader response theory for teachers to build foundational knowledge to aptly use in their classrooms. Topics discussed include textual theories of response, experiential theories of response, psychological theories of response, social theories of response, cultural theories of response, and applying theory into practice, eliciting response. Key reviews of reader response criticism and glossary terms are also explored throughout the text.

  • Harkin, P. “The Reception of Reader-Response Theory.” College Composition and Communication 56.3 (2005): 410–425.

    This essay provides a historical explanation for the place of reader response theory in English studies. The author takes a genealogical look at how reader response theory has been celebrated or rejected in English departments and what this suggests about conflicted relations between composition studies and literary studies and between research and pedagogy during the past two or three decades in the United States.

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