A Model of Fan Information Behaviour

It’s been well over a year since I completed my thesis and earned my PhD. Since then I’ve had time to reflect on what I learned, and on my findings. There are several findings that I think would be worth investigating and expanding upon in the future, but one of the most important of these is the model of fan information behaviour that I developed through my research.

Model of Fan Information Behaviour

This model is based upon my research findings, and highlights some of the unique information behaviour that fans display, particularly the following:

  • The constant reuse of information and resources in the creation of the fan text, and even the source text;
  • The use of information in the creation of two types of works – encyclopaedic/affirmational works (i.e works that affirm the source text), and transformative works (i.e. works that build upon, expand and transform the source text);
  • A general ambivalence towards copyright;
  • Information does not merely take textual or artistic forms – semiotic and enunciative forms are also important;
  • Some fans act as mentors in the passing on of knowledge towards ‘novice’ fans, albeit generally in what might be considered an amateur capacity (i.e. fans are not experts in the traditional sense);
  • Money-making and entrepreneurial activities can be part of the information flows;
  • Complex relationships exist between fans-fans and fans-producers, e.g. friendships, activism, charity, support, etc.

This model is meant to be a general one; i.e. it is meant to be applicable to all types of media fans, of all different fandoms. As such, it would be interesting to have this model tested on individual fandoms or fan communities in the future, and see whether it can be either validated or further refined and improved.

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Fandom, Food and Folksonomies – and interdisciplinary research – at ASIS&T 2018

The Fandom, Food and Folksonomies panel at ASIS&T 2018 (courtesy of Eric Forcier).

Earlier this month, I was in Vancouver for the 2018 Annual ASIS&T meeting, to give a panel with some of my peers on research methodologies in fun-life contexts.  The title of the panel was Fandom, Food and Folksonomies: The Methodological Realities of Studying Fun Life-Contexts the conference proceedings can be viewed here. I was joined by the panel organiser, Melissa OcepekJulia Bullard, Sarah Polkinghorne, and Eric Forcier; the panel was moderated by the wonderful Jenna Hartel, whose work into Serious Leisure information behaviour has been a standard and inspiration for many of us working in the field.

The focus of my part of the panel was on research ethics, particularly interdisciplinary research ethics.  As Carlin (2003) has noted, while LIS is a “net importer of research strategies […and] it could be assumed that research ethics would have been adopted, or formed the basis for debate” (Carlin 2003, p.5), there is still no overarching framework for interdisciplinary research ethics within LIS. In the particular case of my doctoral research (Price 2017), looking outside of LIS for an ethics framework was important, as the subject of my research (fan practice) has traditionally been, and to some extent still is today, considered deviant. Some fanworks/fan practices can be sexually explicit, or otherwise ‘pathological’, and therefore exposure can be damaging to fans. In addition to this, fanworks often exist in a legally grey area copyright-wise, which can expose fans to legal repercussions. As Busse and Hellekson (2012) have noted, fans share their work in ‘semi-private’ or ‘semi-public’ spaces, where they do not expect them to be scrutinised by outsiders, let alone academics. It is partially for this reason that fans may publish their work pseudonymously, in order to protect their identities.

For this reason, in my research I adopted the TWC’s ‘fans first’ framework, which protects fans’ rights to privacy despite their work being developed and published in semi-public spaces. This might not strictly satisfy academic standards with regards to, for example, citations (‘fans first’ does not promote using URL’s to identify the location of fanworks); but it does give fans a token layer of the expected privacy from non-fandom publics. From an academic perspective, the location would still be identifiable by those seeking to verify the information given by using modern online search methods.

The Fandom, Food and Folksonomies panel at ASIS&T 2018 (courtesy of Eric Forcier).

The point of my presentation was to make LIS scholars aware that, when researching fun-life contexts, the groups subject to that research may follow cultural norms that are particularly sensitive and should warrant special consideration.  This may be the case in, for example, a study of the information behaviour of BDSM practitioners, queer communities, or of dark web usage. In these cases, there may already be an extensive body of literature in other disciplines that explore the ethics of researching such groups, and it would behove the LIS scholar to acquaint themselves in such literature before undertaking their research. This should allow for a more holistic and sensitive approach to engaging with communities that might be wary of or even hostile to academic enquiries into their (sub)-culture.

The panel itself was a success, not in the least due to the fantastic moderation of Jenna Hartel, the fascinating research presented by my co-panellists, and the discerning questions from the floor. Despite the panel taking place at 8:30am, there was a large audience, and after the panel we were all swamped by attendees interested in our work, which was hugely gratifying.


Afterwards there was plenty left of the day. After a short break I next wandered into the ‘Meet the Editors’ panel, and was interested to hear from Samuel Kai Wah Chu (incoming editor of the journal Information and Learning Science) about the importance of interdisciplinarity to his journal. His focus was on how information science and learning science intersects, and how we can bring scholars from other fields together. My opinion is that, since information permeates and impacts all our lives, information science is, necessarily, multi- or interdisciplinary. What it isn’t so good at is communicating to other disciplines with which its research overlaps, and so I was glad to hear that other scholars in the field are taking this question seriously.

I next went to the Knowledge and Information Organisation track. The first paper, delivered by Oksana Zavalina, presented research on the implementation of RDA standards in libraries worldwide, and over time, which I found particularly interesting, as my place of work is currently implementing RDA, or at least the bare minimum of the standard. Due to a lack of man-hours, we are unable to retroactively update old records, although we are doing so in an ad hoc and piecemeal manner – so it will indeed be interesting to the results of RDA uptake in a longitudinal study.

The second paper, Reconceptualizing Superwork for improved access of popular cultural objects, was of particular interest to me, as, of course, the organisation of fanworks (a type of popular cultural object) is a subject close to my heart. The presentation, delivered by Jacob Jett, was excellent, and gave much food for thought. Fanworks were not included as objects in the superwork hierarchy per se, although there was discussion of if and how they should fit in, and the authors indicated that they would be considering fanworks in future research. Julia Bullard and myself had an interesting back channel conversation about it on Twitter during the presentation (see below for the thread). My opinion is that fanworks are intrinsically tied to the superwork (or source text(s)), and would certainly appear in a hierarchical model under the superwork. The Archive of Our Own’s classification system, also hierarchical, is an excellent example of how fanworks relate to a superwork (see their Gundam page for an example).

The final keynote, delivered by Zeynep Tufekci, was a fantastic end to the day, and very topical considering the ‘post-truth’ age we now live in. Zeynep’s talk focused on how we have evolved from information censorship to information ‘distraction’ – our current state of information glut is an effective way of distracting from ‘inconvenient’ information that the powers that be do not want us to see. Fake news and click bait has proved to be a far more effective and insidious form of censorship than censorship itself. The talk was inspiring and very pertinent to the responsibility we, as information professionals and scholars, bear in current times.

All in all, I had a fantastic time at ASIS&T, not only for the stimulating and inspiring content, but also for the fantastic people I talked to and shared research with. This was a great opportunity to connect with the wider LIS community, both intellectually and personally.

ASIS&T 2018 – achieving full rainbow!

REFERENCES

  • Busse, K., and Hellekson, K. (2012). Identity, ethics and fan privacy. In: K. Larsen and L. Zubernis (eds.). Fan Culture: Theory/Practice. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 38-56.
  • Carlin, A. P. (2003). Disciplinary debates and bases of interdisciplinary studies: the place of research ethics in library and information science. Library & Information Science Research, [online] 25, 3-18. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0740-8188(02)00163-9.
  • Price, L. (2017) Serious leisure in the digital world: exploring the information behaviour of fan communities. [pdf] Ph.D. City, University of London. Available at: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/19090/
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Some notes on what LIS can learn from fan information behaviour

A couple of years back I gave a talk during #citymash entitled ‘NSFW: Fanfiction in the Library’, which was more or less an exploratory dive into how LIS can learn from fan information behaviour. (My original blog post on this event can be found here. You can also read the handout for the talk here).

Recently I found the notes I took from audience members during the talk, which were very helpful in helping formulate some of the theories later developed in my PhD thesis.  I’ve decided to do a little rundown of these notes (plus some discussion), which might be of interest, particularly to those who are thinking about what LIS can learn from fan information practices (and that of other participatory cultures.  Trust me – there is lots we can learn!).

So here we are – some comments from the audience

-oOo-

Fan information behaviour is fun.

The implication being that information behaviour in professional/academic/research/mundane contexts is not. Is this strictly true? If not, how can LIS make their systems fun for users to engage with? If yes, then what can we do to harness the pleasurable aspects of information behaviour that we are not already tapping into?

Tagging only makes sense to me.

One audience member thought that the only aspect of fan information behaviour that could be successfully incorporated into LIS systems is tagging.  But free tagging has already been instituted on many online library, museum and gallery catalogues, with only limited success, and hasn’t seen the wide-ranging and innovative usage that manifests on platforms such as AO3 and Tumblr.

You need a feeling of community for it to work.

Users need to have a strong sense of community; they need to be invested in the institution and/or the thing that it stands for.  Otherwise they will not be motivated to contribute to participatory classification activities (such as free tagging), or other initiatives that may be beneficial to institutional information work.  Certain groups, such as scholars, amateur genealogists, historians, movie enthusiasts etc., already have the requisite investment in a certain domain – however the degree of their involvement in participatory information behaviour is variable, and whilst similar in some ways to fan information behaviour, is arguably less intense.

Publicity and discussion is needed to foster a sense of community and investment in collections.

Are there people who already have that vested interest in your collection? Who are passionate about it? Find those people and engage with them.  What do they have to offer?  What do they think are the best ways to publicise your collection and engage others with them?

AO3 is creating a collection of deleted fanworks.

Fans are very interested in preserving their cultural history and the artefacts associated with it.  They are able to think outside the box and come together on a voluntary basis to preserve their fannish history.  Maybe passionate users of memory institution collections have ideas about how works they are interested in can best be preserved, curated and showcased.

There’s a similarity between big name scholars and big name fans (BNF).  The cliques that form around BNF and their influence can be toxic to the community.  There can be gaming the system, such as getting fans of the BNF to increase hits, reviews and positive spin on their work.

The comment implies that scholarship suffers from the same sorts of problems, such as skewed metrics and citation practices.

Library systems could be more user-focused.

There is a trend towards this, with more ‘interactive’ functions, such as scrolling book covers, free-tagging affordances, and the ability to create reading lists – are these initiatives successful, and do they engender passionate, fan-like information behaviour?  How can we make using the library catalogue ‘pleasurable’?

Friction is an issue – there is less friction for fans when using their information systems.

There is plenty of friction in fan information systems, but because fans are invested in the system (and sometimes because they actually own, develop or maintain the system), they are more motivated to create workarounds or improve that system.  Perhaps information professionals can engage with users about friction points and how to overcome them.

MARC cataloguing – can it be used to catalogue fanworks?

MARC cataloguing standards are not readily transparent and there is a learning curve to using and understanding them.  Most people outside of LIS have not heard of MARC or know of its purpose.  Similarly, standards such as the Library of Congress subject headings are not granular enough to cater for the specificities of fandom. Therefore fans do not generally use these standards to catalogue their works – indeed, most fanworks have no standard bibliographical data applied to them.  Is there a way that those standards can be mapped onto the cataloguing standards that have already been developed by the fan community?

Fan-tagging type systems already exist for ‘normal’ books.

These can be seen in many OPACs or online catalogues, although usage appears to be low.  The tagging system on LibraryThing is much more widely used and successful, as the LibraryThing community has a vested interested in their own libraries (and, perhaps, books themselves). They can also contribute obscure information about books, including different editions, acquisition information, and even upload their own covers for books.  There is a sense that they are contributing to the catalogue, and enriching the experiences of other LibraryThing users.  This is not apparent in standard online catalogues.

-oOo-

So that’s it for the discussions that came out of my talk.  Lots to think about. One thing that stuck out to be as I was going back on these was the point that I copied out in bold in the previous paragraph – “enriching the experiences of other LibraryThing users”. I believe this is of primary importance in building participatory information behaviours and systems.  It isn’t merely a case of being personally invested in the collection, but also in the community around it.  It is about improving, enriching, and sharing accurate and interesting knowledge about the collection with other users who share your passion.  It is about contributing value to a community.  It is even about sharing your own knowledge capital – I know a really rare fact about a limited edition of this book, and I want everyone else to know I know. I can reference a really obscure comic issue/TV episode in my fanfiction, and I’m going to tag it so everyone else can know I know about it.  I live in the road where this photo in this archive was taken, so I’m going to share my personal knowledge of this road to enrich peoples’ knowledge of this place with my own.). Tapping into what users have to offer the entire community, and making them feel that their knowledge is valuable, is key to concepts of participatory engagement in information work.

 

 

 

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Fan gatekeeping at the European Fan Cultures Conference 2015

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Yours truly at EFC15 (left), with Camila Monteiro (right).  (Source: Facebook).

Earlier this month I was thrilled to be present my research so far at the European Fan Cultures conference at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, made possible by the stellar organisation of Simone Driessen, Leonieke Bolderman, and Abby Waysdorf.  I was on Panel 2B, the ‘Fans as Gatekeepers’ track; and as it happens, that was pretty much exactly the title of my presentation, which was Fans as gatekeepers: The role of cult media fans in collecting, preserving and sharing fanworks.  This presentation summarised the research done for my doctoral thesis so far, particularly focusing on the results of a Delphi study conducted between February and September 2015.

I was initially nervous of presenting my findings, since my background, whilst it is the arts and humanities, is not specifically in fan studies, and my current focus is, as I have mentioned before on this blog, on Library and Information Science (LIS).  I therefore cannot pretend to be as familiar with the discipline of fan studies as those who study in the field, and presenting to those who do can be daunting.  I need not, however, have worried.  The conference included presentations from scholars that represented a wide range of backgrounds, from marketing to psychology to human geography.  There was a diversity of theories, methodologies, and practical applications that is rarely seen in other fields; and I think this speaks to the recent growth and huge potential in fan studies to embrace different disciplines – and vice versa.  The conference turned out to be a great space of researchers of different backgrounds to share ideas, find unexpected commonalities, and to broaden horizons by opening up one’s peers to possibilities and ways of working that they might not have previously entertained. Even the live tweeting reflected this:

All this helped to dissipate my initial anxiety, as I was pleasantly surprised to realise that there was a warm openness to these different approaches to fan studies, and that my own LIS approach to fan studies was received with interest.  Even the explanation of the Delphi study – that research method that no one has ever heard of and takes a million years to explain – was met without too much resistance!

Cornel Sandvoss (of Fans:  The Mirror of Consumption fame) gives a fascinating keynote.

Cornel Sandvoss (of Fans: The Mirror of Consumption fame) gives a fascinating keynote. (Source: Facebook)

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the presentation – if you’re so inclined, you can view the slides at this link: Fans as gatekeepers EFC15 (best-viewed when played).  To summarise both the presentation and the results of the Delphi study, consensus amongst panel members was surprisingly high, and, most gratifyingly, the majority of statements in which the highest confidence was placed was on those that regarded the information behaviour of fans.  This means that, amongst the study’s panel, there was an extremely high level of agreement about how fans collect, organise and disseminate fan-related information and fanworks.  It became clear, through these results, that information management, sharing and sourcing are all significant aspects of fan activity, but that it is so intrinsic to it that fans aren’t even aware of it as being ‘information work’.  This became clear during the question section of the presentation and in conversations afterwards, when audience members shared their own recognition of this being a part of fan practice, but not usually in a self-aware way.  This was heartening because it meant that this was an area of research that had little coverage and was worth further investigation.

Lastly, I wanted to add that I was amazed at how much overlap there was between my own research and the research of those present.  My own panel included presentations on fans as producers (produsers?) of user-generated content, and on the ‘fan press’ or fan journalism – all of which are concerns of LIS.  In a wider context, I was surprised to learn that more than one conference attendee had done past research on fan wikis, and that – put bluntly – I was not alone! Which is always a good feeling.

All in all, I can safely say that the conference was a fantastic experience, with a friendly, welcoming vibe and some great opportunities for networking.  Many thanks to the organisers for making this a such a super experience for a first-time presenter and early-career researcher.

(The abstract from the conference can be viewed here).

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“NSFW: Fanworks and the Library” at #citymash

Alison Pope brainstorms Matt Finch's #citymash session, 'Death & Burlesque'.

Alison Pope brainstorms Matt Finch‘s #citymash session, ‘Death & Burlesque’.

On Saturday I had the good fortune to present a talk at #citymash: Libraries & Technology Unconference, entitled “NSFW: Fanworks and the Library” (click the link to download the accompanying handout).  The unconference, held at the City University London Centre for Information Science, was an opportunity for librarians, information professionals, LIS students, and all people with an interest in technology and libraries to pitch their own sessions, share ideas, network and discover. The idea was to learn lots and do it in as fun and engaging a way as possible; and whilst there were some moments of panic (last minute presentations, potential room swaps, and unresponsive computer pod monitors!), I was blown away by the enthusiasm, creativity and intelligence of everyone present.  I was particularly impressed by the willingness of the #citylis Masters students themselves in leading their own sessions and bringing forward some great ideas, both innovative and practical.  A taster of some of the things encountered during the day: a 3D printing maker cart, comics and creativity in libraries, open source software implementation and grounded theory.  So – very eclectic, very fun and very mentally and intellectually challenging.  A fantastic cauldron of stimulating things!

I was a little nervous about my presentation, to be brutally honest.  Fandom in libraries is not very techy and I was concerned that it might not be what participants were expecting from the day.  Nevertheless, the audience were very enthusiastic and had some interesting ideas to put forward that I had not thought of before.  My hope was that, in presenting some of the concepts that I have been exploring in my research (on the information behaviour of cult media fans), my audience would see some ideas and make some connections that I hadn’t recognised before.  The talk provided to be really successful in this area, and I was furiously scribbling notes throughout the hour, trying to get down the fantastic insights that people were able to feed back to me.

Me delivering my talk on fandom in the library.

Me delivering my talk on fandom in the library, via Lyn Robinson.

The great thing about #citymash is that the conversation continued well after the event had ended (and even after the after-event drinks that stimulated further conversation afterwards).  The live tweeting of the event brought some great discussions together, and it was my pleasure to have a fascinating online discussion with Imperial College’s Andrew Preater, library innovator Owen Stephens, and LibraryThing founder Tim Spalding about the usefulness of fan tagging.  This helped me to further articulate some of my ideas about bringing the passion of fans into LIS.  Owen was kind enough to point out to me the Visitors & Residents approach put forward by JISC, which lays out a continuum of information user behaviours: from the visitor, who seeks information to satisfice, to the resident, who is a social information seeker who thrives in a community.  What interests me is: where does the fan fit into this?  Do they fit at all?  And how can the passion of fans be harnessed by information professionals and educators to improve the way we organise, share and create information?

I don’t know yet if there are any answers to this question, but I’m really happy to have had the chance to put those questions out there and get back some fantastic food-for-thought from an intelligent and inspiring group of people.

You can view a Storify of #citymash here.

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Fan info behaviour – Delphi findings update

In the interests of original research, I’ve removed the previous text of this post.

However, I would like to say that so far the findings have been really interesting, and that the Delphi panel’s responses seem to tending more to a consensus.  Fans may not be an homogeneous group, but it appears that there’s a lot they can agree on, especially where their information behaviour is concerned!

I’d like to thank my 31 participants for their amazingly in-depth responses, and for their patience in waiting for me to get Round 2 sent out.  They all went above and beyond the call of duty in sharing their lives as fans with me.

I hope to get Round 2 sent out some time next week, or the week after.  In the meantime, here’s a link to Mason & Robinson’s (2011) list of sources of inspiration for emerging artists and designers (pp. 167-176) – from my perspective, it’s interesting to compare the inspirations of artists to that of fans.  It brings to mind just how much fans also share with creators.

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Fan info behaviour – Delphi findings so far, part 1

Just over a week ago I closed the first round of my Delphi study on the information behaviour of fans – many thanks to the wonderful participants who responded and were so generous with their time and thoughts!

An update: I am currently going through the responses and putting them through a textual analysis.  I’ve broken down the responses into several themes and sub-themes, which should help me to formulate some general statements to give out to the participants for Round 2.

Of course all this needs refining, and I’m sure more details will come out of the woodwork after I’ve gone through the responses another half a dozen times.  In the meantime I’ll be keeping anyone who’s interested in the progress of the study informed via this blog, so watch this space! 🙂

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Serious leisure in the digital world, July 9, 2014

On the 9th July 2014 I gave a small presentation at a City Informatics forum for LIS PhD students, entitled Serious leisure in the digital world: exploring the information behaviours of fan communities (which is the working title for my thesis).  The presentation gave a summary of research done so far in my first year: i.e. how we define fans, what do previous studies have to say about fans, has any work been done on their information behaviour, and how we work towards a conceptual model of fan information behaviour.

For those who were interested in hearing about the research but unable to attend the presentation, I’ve packaged the slides in two different formats for your convenience – PPT and PDF – which can be downloaded below.  There is some amusing video in there which can only be watched with the PPT file – make sure you have an internet connection when you open. 🙂

Presentation July 2014 (PDF)

Presentation July 2014 (Powerpoint)

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my supervisor, Lyn Robinson, for her support, encouragement and advice in bringing together this talk, and in helping to get my research to the (almost) one year mark! 🙂

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Read for Research Reading List

City University London Library has started Read for Research, a great new initiative where research students are able to order books pertinent to their research which will then be added to the library.  As a resource for others who are researching LIS-related fan studies and participatory cultures, or who are interested in doing so, I’ll be sharing my list of RFR books here, which will be updated as and when new books come in.  All these books are now available at the City University London Library at Northampton Square. 🙂

  • Bacon-Smith, C. (1992).  Enterprising women : television fandom and the creation of popular myth.  Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Barton, K. M., & Lampley, J. M., eds. (2014). Fan CULTure : essays on participatory fandom in the 21st century. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Black, R. W. (2008). Adolescents and online fan fiction.  New York ; Oxford : Peter Lang.
  • Delve, J., & Anderson, D., eds. (2014). Preserving complex digital objects. London: Facet.
  • Delwiche, A., & Henderson J. J. (2013). The participatory cultures handbook. New York ; Abingdon : Routledge.  NEW!
  • Devitt, A. J. (2008).  Writing Genres.  Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Duffett, M. (2013). Understanding fandom : an introduction to the study of media fan culture.  New York : Bloomsbury.
  • Duits, L., Zwaan, K., & Reijnders, S., eds. (2014).  The Ashgate research companion to fan cultures.  Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
  • El Morr, C., & Maret, P., eds. (2012).  Virtual community building and the information society : current and future directions. Hershey, Pa. : Information Science Reference.
  • Elkington, S., Jones, I. & Lawrence, L., eds. (2006).  Serious leisure : extensions and applications.  Eastbourne : Leisure Studies Association.
  • Fisher, K. E., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, L. E. F., eds. (2005).  Theories of information behavior.  Medford, N.J. : Published for the American Society for Information Science and Technology by Information Today.
  • Harrington, C. L., & Bielby, D. D. (1995).  Soap fans : pursuing pleasure and making meaning in everyday life. Philadelphia, Pa. : Temple University Press.
  • Hellekson, K., & Busse, K., eds. (2014).  The fan fiction studies reader.  Iowa: University of Iowa Press.
  • Hills, M. (2002). Fan Cultures.  London : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Jamison, A. E. (2013). Fic : why fanfiction is taking over the world.  Dallas : Smart Pop.
  • Jenkins, H. (2013), updated 20th anniversary ed. Textual poachers : television fans and participatory culture.  New York : Routledge.
  • Jones, W., & Teevan, J., eds. (2007). Personal information management.  Seattle ; London : University of Washington Press.
  • Murray, J. H., (1998).  Hamlet on the holodeck : the future of narrative in cyberspace.  Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
  • Pearce, C., & Artemesia, (2009). Communities of play: emergent cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds.  Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
  • Pugh, S. (2004).  The democratic genre : fan fiction in a literary context.  Bridgend : Seren.
  • Ryan, M. (2001). Narrative as virtual reality : immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media.  Baltimore, Md.; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Stein, L. E., & Busse, K. (2012). Sherlock and transmedia fandom : essays on the BBC series.  Jefferson, N.C. ; London : McFarland.
  • Zubernis, L. & Larsen, K. (2012). Fandom at the crossroads : celebration, shame and fan/producer relationships. Newcastle upon Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publishing. NEW!
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Notes: “What is a fan?”

My current musings are centred on what a fan actually is, and as with most things, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question; although for the sake of clarity I have to get some sort of definition sorted out before I take the plunge and actually start researching them in earnest.

Reading Hills (2013) has prompted me to note a short summary of how fans should be ‘divided’, if not strictly delineated as a single entity.  The general consensus seems to be that fans exist on a continuum.  Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) have posited the following:

CONSUMER    FAN   CULTIST  ENTHUSIAST  PETTY PRODUCER

Fiske (1992) thought that fans engage in three categories of fan productivity (although he conceived them as being analytical tools rather than iron clad sub-divisions):

SEMIOTIC : ENUNCIATIVE : TEXTUAL

Abercrombie and Longhurst sought to differentiate consumers from fans according to Fiske’s model of fan productivity:

CONSUMERS  Enunciative productivity

FANS  Textual productivity

Hills finds this too simplistic, especially in an era where “digital fandom collapses semiotic and enunciative productivity into hybridized or generalized textual productivity” (p. 150).  It’s worth bearing in mind that Fiske’s original model of fan productivity was formulated in 1992 when the internet had yet to go mainstream.  Therefore ‘fan talk’ – largely verbal in Fiske’s day – has seen a radical shift from the verbal to digital, non-face-to-face platforms.  Verbal enunciative productivity, of course, has not ‘disappeared’; but Hills sees the digital as having, to a large extent, collapsed the semiotic and enunciative into a more generalized form of textual productivity.  Therefore, he surmises, it is time to seek a new paradigm to explain the concept of fan productivity as a whole.

Hills also criticises Jenkins’ theory of participatory culture for being too broad in an age where Web 2.0 has afforded participatory activities on a wide range of levels by a large swathe of users; coupled with which, participatory activities have had a “long history in political theory, human geography, sociology, and design” (Wyatt et al., 2013).  He draws on the work of Shafer (2011) to construct a bipartite model of participatory culture which is more relevant:

EXPLICIT: the production of cultural artefacts by social groups which constructs and is constructed by group identity

IMPLICIT: the production of content which is not necessarily in the context of fan-based community

This is supported Busse and Gray (2011) and Wyatt et al., who also see fannish activities as taking place on a continuum, and remind us that such activities are not always the works of creativity so valourised by Jenkins and others.  It is worth then, not merely distinguishing fans as being uniquely engaged in participatory cultures; nor to focus on those fans which engage in ‘traditional’ forms of textual production such as fanfiction and fanart, as textual production of all types (e.g. writing wikis, guides, reviews or even comments) are part of the digital landscape of both fan and non-fan communities alike.

REFERENCES

  • Abercrombie, N. and Longhurst, B., 1998. Audiences: a sociological theory of performance and imagination. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Busse, K., and Gray, J., 2011. Fan Cultures and Fan Communities. In: Nightingale, V., ed. 2011. The handbook of media audiences, [online], Ch. 21.  Available at: Wiley Online Library <doi: 10.1002/9781444340525.ch21> [Accessed 27 November 2013].
  • Fiske, J., 1992. The cultural economy of fandom. In: Lewis, L. A., ed. 1992. Adoring audience: fan culture and popular media. London: Routledge. Ch.2
  • Hills, M., 2013. Fiske’s ‘textual productivity’ and digital fandom: web 2.0 democratization versus fan distinction? Participations: Journal of Audience & Receptions Studies, [online]. Available at:<http://www.participations.org/Volume%2010/Issue%201/9%20Hills%2010.1.pdf> [Accessed 13 November 2013].
  • Schäfer, M. T. , 2011. Bastard Culture! How User Participation Transforms Cultural Production, [e-book] Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Available at:<http://mtschaefer.net/media/uploads/docs/Schaefer_Bastard-Culture_2011.pdf> [Accessed 6 February 2014].
  • Wyatt, S., et al., 2013. Participatory Knowledge Production 2.0: Critical Views and Experiences.  Information, Communication & Society, [e-journal], 16 (2). Available at: Taylor Francis Online <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2012.746382> [Accessed 13 November 2013].
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