Interpretive communities: A term used by American reader-response critic Stanley Fish to acknowledge the existence of multiple and diverse reading groups within any large reading population. Beginning with his essay “Interpreting the Variorum” (1976), Fish argued that the meaning of a given text may differ significantly from group to group. (For instance, college students reading novels in academic courses form an interpretive community that is likely to read a famous work of detective fiction differently than retirees living in adult communities.) Different interpretive communities, Fish argued, share different reading goals and strategies; whether a given interpretation appears correct or logical to members of an interpretive community depends greatly on whether it fits in with their shared assumptions, motives, and methods. Thus, Fish suggested, no interpretation is likely to be considered valid by everyone, but certain interpretations are likely to be shared by most members of a given interpretive community.
Previously, in developing his theory of affective stylistics, Fish had suggested that meaning is an “event” that takes place in the individual reader’s mind, that reading is a temporal process, and thus that readers have to continually reevaluate their interpretations as they proceed through texts. In developing the theory of interpretive communities, Fish came to view affective stylistics as just one of several possible reading strategies.