Original Research

Reading cultures – Towards a clearer, more inclusive description

Katherine Morse, Tara Polzer Ngwato, Katie Huston
Reading & Writing | Vol 15, No 1 | a447 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v15i1.447 | © 2024 Katherine Morse, Tara Polzer Ngwato, Katie Huston | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 July 2023 | Published: 15 March 2024

About the author(s)

Katherine Morse, National Reading Barometer, Cape Town, South Africa
Tara Polzer Ngwato, National Reading Barometer, Cape Town, South Africa
Katie Huston, National Reading Barometer, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: This article describes how the National Reading Barometer project has redefined the concept of ‘reading culture’ in South Africa.

Objectives: As expressed in the 2023 National Reading Survey (N = 4250) and the 2023 National Reading Barometer, a clearer description of reading cultures was developed to describe both individual reading practices (measured through the survey) and the national reading ecosystem (measured through the barometer).

Method: We describe the survey and statistical tools developed to measure the new concept of reading cultures. This includes a survey questionnaire that introduced novel questions alongside established indicators. Reading is defined and measured through six distinct dimensions: reading purpose, habits, volume, depth, motivation, and identity. The expanded understanding of reading purpose includes reading for information, communication, and enjoyment. At an ecosystem level, the National Reading Barometer was applied to visualise data from the National Reading Survey and secondary data on reading ability, access to reading material, and enabling environmental indicators to provide a baseline for high-level longitudinal trends in the national reading environment.

Results: The National Reading Barometer and National Reading Survey assisted to redefine the debate on reading cultures by providing evidence-based descriptions of varied reading cultures and situating these within the reading ecosystem.

Conclusion: We conclude by proposing how this revised concept of reading cultures and the new tools for measuring impact may open research and policy advocacy opportunities in the literacy sector.

Contribution: This article contributes a pluralistic, Afrocentric, and modernised understanding of reading cultures.


literacy; national reading barometer; national reading survey; reading cultures; South Africa.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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