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Science on Insta: are influencers helping get young women (back) into reading?

Dutch influencers like Romy Boomsma and Nina Pierson have a huge following on Instagram and are increasingly sharing book tips there. Researcher Aafje de Roest wants to find out more about the reading culture they are promoting and its effect on the reading habits of their mostly young female followers.

Floaty dresses, lingerie and... a book

Influencers are creating a trend that frames reading as a luxury activity. They share their book tips with beautiful photos of themselves in floaty dresses and sometimes lingerie, says De Roest. ‘This makes the act of reading glamorous. I’m curious about what kind of appeal this has for women between 25 and 40 and whether it changes their reading habits and wins new readers.’

Continue reading below Instagram post

De Roest, who will soon receive her PhD for her research into the Dutch hip-hop scene, was awarded a Tiele fellowship to conduct a two-month mini study. She is using the grant to explore new research opportunities and identify new literary developments.

Reading culture and femininity

To trace these developments, De Roest is going to research the language and images used in book posts by Dutch influencers. This is known as a multimodal analysis. ‘I’m particularly curious about how followers respond to these posts. The activity under the posts is really high. People exchange reading tips and experiences. I want to know what defines this reading culture and what the role of femininity, for instance, is in this.’

For the research De Roest is using a method from her hip-hop research. She is using a tool to collect a large quantity of reactions on Instagram and will identify the most active followers. She wants to interview these women. ‘I will approach them through Instagram. I’m already getting a lot of responses from women, who have suggested Dua Lipa’s service95 platform and Lisbeth Rasker’s reading club. Participants who can actively offer input on the research: I think that’s really interesting.’

Influencers are enthusiastic

The influencers themselves have already gotten wind of the upcoming research and their initial reactions have been positive. ‘Nina Pierson has already posted about it and Ginny Ranu called it a “really cool project”. The lines of communication are very short and it helps that I belong to the target group, so to speak’, says De Roest.

Continue reading below Instagram post

‘I want to show that research like this, which is close to people’s lives, has a place at universities.’

De Roest is hoping to be able to carry out her research this summer and to publish a paper with the results fairly soon after. But she is thinking about a more appealing alternative to her research group. ‘I’d love to collaborate with a fashion magazine or Linda magazine, for example. I want to show that research like this, which is close to people’s lives, has a place at universities.’

Text: Tim Senden

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