November 21, 2009
Transmedia as Archontic texts: Multiplicity, Subjectivity, and Social Change

I meant to cross-post this yesterday, but got so caught up in the panels that it slipped my mind. This was originally posted at

Multiplicity has been transformed into quite the buzzword this morning. Henry featured the concept of multiple and conceptually-varied versions of popular franchises -- Indian versions of Spiderman, for instance, or the story told by Mary Jane -- as one of his 7 key concepts for transmedia. In short, re-imaginings or re-visions of existing texts that both challenge and compliment one another. In traditional media, the emphasis was on continuity and control, ensuring that stories maintained consistency through controlled authorship. In transmedia storytelling, however, the emphasis is on multiplicity, the emergence of multiple authors telling or re-tellings in order to build a rich, varied story world.

This ties into another of Henry's 7 concepts. Subjectivity. In short, transmedia provides the opportunity to tell stories from different viewpoints, to include in the narrative voices that are typically not heard. This notion is politically provocative, since it suggests transmedia's very narrative structures makes room for the production of unheard or background subjects and perspectives. In other words, it allows for the telling of stories and experience and character voices that would not otherwise be told.

This begins to sound not unlike a tool for political activism -- a narrative structure and a production form that give voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless, to those often silenced or relegated to the background.

This (along with a brief twitter conversation with Faris Yakob and Sam Ford about paratexts and metatexts in transmedia -- seriously, everyone should be following the #FOE4 hash tag) made me think of C3 Consulting Researcher Gail de Kosnik's idea of fan production as archontic literature. The concept of "archontic" texts suggests that texts based upon or referring to other texts aren't derivative or subordinate, but rather build an archive that expands the textual world. The archontic allows for infinite (and indefinite) re-tellings, but not just in terms of telling again, but rather telling more. Not just repeating, but adding to, building out, expanding, and drilling down.

Moreover, Gail talks about the archontic as "literatures of the subordinate." In other words, the stories of those who aren't always permitted to speak and tell their stories and perspectives. In that light, the multiplicity in transmedia storytelling makes stories more elastic -- with every additional telling, the world expands, encompassing new viewpoints and subjectivities. And all of this begins to take on a distinctly political potential.

Going into the Transmedia for Social Change panel this afternoon, I can't help but wonder: is transmedia a form that is particularly useful for communicating and enacting social change at a structural level? Does transmedia as a narrative strategy have not only formal implications, but also ignites some political ones?