May 20, 2008
Gender and Fan Studies

Over the next several posts, I'm going to revisit some of my traveling around the conference circuit in March and April and share some of the other interesting research projects and papers I had forwarded to me. Many of these will be from the 2008 Console-ing Passions conference in Santa Barbara I've written about on the blog in a few previous posts.

As I mentioned, I participated in a workshop that acted as a postmortem for the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture or Fandebate discussion that took place on Live Journal and on Henry Jenkins' blog last year.

On that topic, I saw a recent post from Kristina Busse, one of the central figures in helping to drive that discussion between male and female fan scholars about the state of the field and gender divides in fan communities and fan studies, that I thought might be of interest to blog readers who follow fan studies issues in particular.

Kristina is one of the founders of the Transformative Works and Cultures journal that I am on the editorial board for.

Earlier this month, Kristina wrote this post about the one-year anniversary of the launch of her blog, Ephemeral Traces. She writes:

Most importantly, it meant questioning my simple binaries, really revisiting the truths as I'd understood them in terms of gender and fandom and reconfirming some and overthrowing others. And it meant the merging of online spaces as more and more of the LJ "fangirls" created blogs but also more of the "fanboys" started hanging out on LJ--with some of them really enjoying the myriad advantages LJ has over most other blogging platforms (such as comment notification, threading, and flocking but, probably most importantly, an ease of communication and intellectual engagement that always struck me as a tad more personal and less performative than blog interactions). In a way, then, I feel like this past year has virtually made the blog obsolete.

I won't attempt to rehash through more of her post here, since I think this is as good an excuse as any for interested parties to delve deeper into Kristina's writing, but I appreciate this introspective piece about how those 22 rounds of conversation helped shape some future directions for fan studies research, even if they exposed a few warts in all of our perspectives along the way.

Academic, corporate, and other parties who read this blog may well share an interest in audience "engagement" in one form or another in particular. There has often been some debate about what fan studies "studies," who is involved in fan studies, whether it is really a discipline, and who is really a fan. Is it the 5%, the extreme margin of the crowd that is only a small minority of "hardcores" and thus not worthy of significant time from the industry or academia, as I have had many people explain to me and as we've seen countless times in interviews.

Or does fan refer to anyone engaged in a more active engagement and conversation with and around texts. I've aruged in the past that, in terms of fandom, there is a creative component, a relationship with the text, and a social component, not that these are mutually exclusive. Some people we might refer to as fans only engage in one of these three but do so significantly. For instance, a person who has collected every comic book in the history of Spider-Man might be considered a "fan" even if she/he builds no social relationships around the text nor creates new analysis, fan fiction, fanvids, etc. using the text in some way.

Similarly, someone who is an active participant in the discussion board about a particular television show may be considered a fan, even if they don't regularly watch the show itself nor create anything about the text. And so on.

The particulars could easily be debated, but my point is that a diverse range of behaviors fall under the category I think of as "fan." These may involve active consumption of "canon" texts, relationships with consumers and producers, etc. They may not. They may involve communities that develop around resistant readings, reappropriations of texts, or fanfic, or they may not. More than likely, there's some of many of these elements involved.

But we now have a dialgoue established to talk about these issues, and to help scholars see that, even if their work is focused particularly on issues stereotypically declared as "fanboy" or "fangirl," on bandom or media fandom in particular, etc., there are many connections to pay attention to, connections that can strengthen our work when we realize that others are tackling similar issues from differing perspectives/angles.

Many of us have had conversations of late about where fan studies goes in the future, even as we continue to push back toward establishing any official "discipline" that lays down definitive rules of what "fan studies" is or must be. For anyone interested in these issues, I think Kristina's post and those conversations from last summer are a good place to start, but remembe that they are just that: a start. And we welcome scholars, journalists, media industries practitioners, fans, and anyone else who is interested in and who has a stake in these continued conversations about fan labor, audience "engagement," the relationships between producers and consumers, the nature of fan communities, etc., to join in the conversation.

I definitely hope that the new relationships that were forged and the collaborative energy that came out of some of those conversations last summer continue to be capitalized on as we move forward...

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