Presentation at The Child And The Book Conference 2022

Presentation alongside Sonali Kulkarni (University of Tilburg) on the topic of #BookTok, a popular subculture on the social media app TikTok which focuses on literature and book culture.

Abstract is below, followed by the link to the full presentation on YouTube.

Photo from panel presentation in Malta, May 2022.

First launched less than three years ago, TikTok has quickly become a mainstay in the lives of social media users. This is particularly true for children and young adults between ages 10 and 19 who account for over 30% of TikTok’s one billion active users[1], making them the most populous age-group on the platform (Doyle, 2021). This popularity also percolates into TikTok subcultures where users engage with niche interests. One such subculture is #BookTok – a TikTok-based digital community in which (young) readers actively engage with the literary texts that they consume. Owing to the significant impact of the #BookTok trend on the YA publishing industry (Harris, 2021), it has been the subject of several recent studies that understand BookTok as a form of literacy engagement (Jerasa & Boffone, 2021) and examine its scholastic utility for teachers and librarians (Merga, 2021).

The present study shifts attention from literacy to the literary to understand the ways in which young readers harness the BookTok subculture to position themselves as active agents within the literary sphere. Upon framing the BookTok trend within the democratisation of literary criticism and the shift from a top-down system of literary criticism to a “horizontal network of lay readers” (Neima, 2017), we argue that young BookTokkers’ agency as digital literary critics may be understood by employing insights from practice theory. Drawing from the work of Couldry (2004) and Johansen (2018) on understanding media as practices – that is, attempting to understand what young people are actually doing in relation to media – we propose a re-conceptualisation of BookTok as a space for the negotiation of young adults’ readerly and critical agency through which literary discourses have shifted and developed as practice. Through this research, we espouse a move away from discourses of technological determinism to foreground the young adult users and their agentic reshaping of digital literary criticism.