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Mirrored from http://henryjenkins.org/2011/06/acafandom_and_beyond_week_thre.html

Kristina Busse

Being an acafan to me means constantly negotiating two often quite competing codes of conduct and ethical expectations. In particular, I worry about the compromises—both fannishly and academically—when I do acafannish research. I have a pretty strong fannish ethos in my research, i.e., I tend to not cite and reference material without the permission of its fannish creators and I am well aware of the limitations that may put on my research material (Fan Privacy and TWC's Editorial Philosophy). Not only am I restricted by texts I know but I self-restrain to texts where I can easily contact the creator and likely get a positive response. In addition to this limitation, there still remains a desire to present fandom in its best guise; after all, if another scholar gets to read one story, sees one vid, I want it to conform to traditional aesthetic notions. My selections are thus restrained not only by the text’s possible representativeness and accessibility, but also by my desire to not embarrass my community. There are enough shoddy journalistic pieces who point and mock, and the fan in me desires to impress the academic’s colleagues.

The result, however, is that we as acafen are faced with not only the general problem of any qualitative scholar of popular culture on which texts to pick, but also compound the issue by having a variety of vested interests that complicate that selection. In my presentation at the SCMS acafandom workshop, I addressed "The Ethics of Selection: The Role of Canonicity in Acafannish Pedagogy and Publication," and it is this conflict I continue to worry about. The problem is one of choice and selection and the responsibilities this entails. Doing qualitative research one has to pick and choose, and unlike my initial discipline of English literature, there isn’t a ready-made canon of important texts that anyone is expected to recognize if not know.

And yet, fan studies tends to create its own version of a canon, and while I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, I do worry about the fact that we do it seemingly unthinkingly. In fact, given the a wide variety and such idiosyncratic choices, it is surprising how small numbers of vids, for example, dominate academic vid shows, class showing, and academic papers. I'm just mentioning Lum and Sisabet's "Women's Work" and Lim's "Us" here, two vids that might indicate that there is indeed a vid canon, after all.

The reason for that has a lot to do with what fans like and what academics like. In fact, these two criteria beautifully intersect in these two vids, making them ideal representatives, so to speak. And yet I see some danger in creating our own academic canon, so to speak, of texts that fit our theoretical frameworks, texts that are sufficiently experimental, queer, political, or whatever else we may decide to focus on. the problem is not that there shouldn't be an essay on "Women's Work." There totally should! The problem is that by showing the vid every single time and namechecking it (as I'm doing right now :), we're effectively construing a canon, a canon that then gets reflected back on fandom who, of course reads and responds to academic canon formation. Moreover, in so doing, we are on some level ignoring the thousands of vids not as experimental, not as political, not as well edited.

And the question is then whether there really is a problem in that and what political implications that may have. When we choose fan works that fit into our arguments, that make fandom look more creative, more political, more subversive to outsiders because that's the image we want to give to the world at large, are we ultimately misrepresentating and betraying fandom? When we decide on picking exceptional texts, are we properly studying the fandom? How do we justify picking the three most excellent, most politically progressive genderswap stories while ignoring the dozens of stories that are misspelled and poorly plotted, that are reactionary or right out offensive?

Of course, it's more fun writing about stories we like, stories we consider aesthetically and ideologically pleasing. I can spend time with a text I like; I can present my fandom in the best light; and I can get easy permission, because I can show my analysis and not offend the author. I can please academics, fans, and myself in the process. But I'd like to ask what texts and what forms of cultural expression we may ignore in the process, and that we remain vigilant to our vested interests when we decide to choose one text over the many available others.

I am certain that any subcultural member and scholar faces similar ethical concerns to remain true to their two competing codes of conduct: not to betray/expose/embarrass one’s community and not to do bad scholarship. But I also fear that the danger is always there that one part compromises the other. Constantly acknowledging and evaluating that balance is at the center being an acafan to me: I cannot let my academic side exploit my community yet I must be careful to remain aware of my biases without letting them control research.

Nancy Baym

I have to say I don’t feel like I’m trying to reconcile competing sets of expectations and codes of conduct in being a fan studying fandom within academia.

One reason for this may be the primary fandoms with which I’ve aligned myself. I was never involved in fanfic or vidding communities. I’ve always been involved in and studied fan communities where we talk about and critique what we’re into and it seems like the dynamics are different than in communities based on fans’ creative works.

I think it also has to do with the fact that I study people, not texts, and I study the relationships between people, so I come at fandom research from a different set of background contexts and assumptions. For me, canonizing within fandom just isn’t an issue since I’m not looking at fan texts per se. The parallel concern I encounter is how to sample examples of fan discourse or sites, but, I see my first obligation as both scholar and member of fan communities as trying to come up with a sampling that will leave fans saying "yes, that’s a fair take on what we do" and academics saying "I trust that she’s given me a representative view." We always have a responsibility to situate what we study and teach within a wider context that includes some analysis of how representative our choices are.

Throughout much of these discussions (including those already posted) I feel like so many of the issues raised are not unique to academics who are fans and who study fans. The term "acafan" has never resonated with me. I’ve never felt that a disconnect between the two that was problematic or that called for special language to label, nor have I ever understood the problems in what we do as different from the core problems everyone encounters in doing qualitative ethnographic styles of research. "Acafan" was a response to a tradition of media research that I didn’t come from. I started in interpersonal communication and online interaction with methodological training in ethnography and qualitative methods. I’ve never thought of these issues as being any different from those that, say, people who enjoy using the internet and also study people who use it face - yes it colors our perspective and gives us access to some points of view and inside knowledge, and yes it makes some other perspectives harder to palate, but research is always guided by points of view. We always speak from perspectives. If fans who study fandom lack critical distance, that is a failure of their academic training, not of their being fans, and the same charge can be leveled against anyone who studies anything they are part of. This is what theory and methodology are for, to help us step beyond the everyday experience into an analytic mode that takes advantage of what we know and feel without being limited to it. In that regard, I do think methodological training is very important.

I will say, though, that I have often felt there is a risk to studying my pleasurable passion in that it can come to feel like work. That is the identity risk for me, not seeming not fannish enough, or not academicy enough, but not loving the music I write about as much because I am also interviewing some of the people who make it. I worry more about burning out on the pleasure than I do about not having the academy think it’s scholarly enough or the other fans thinking it’s too scholarly.


I come from an unusual place: by the time I was really involved in fandom, the term ‘acafan’ had already come into general use. I knew the term ‘acafan’ first from the fan’s perspective and not from the academic’s. What’s more, the conflict I experience regarding fandom and professional life is much more general than concern about acafandom.

The reason for this is because while academics do influence others’ thought about fans and fandom, the moment that they really begin to make immediate changes in fans’ lives is when they begin to work with the industry. I realized this when I began to work with the Alchemists: holy shit, people really take my advice about what to do. I had better make sure it’s good advice! Publishing an academic article, or a purely academic book, is one thing: it may change what people think about fans twenty or thirty years down the road. Actually getting into a room with entertainment execs is another thing entirely. The decisions that get made there will go into effect next quarter, and they may determine whether fan sites are harassed with C&Ds or whether they’re ignored or whether they’re solicited for advice.

It may seem silly and self-absorbed, but my concerns with regard to how to represent fans in these situations have even dictated whether or not I should dye my hair. If I am the only self-identified fan that a network exec meets in a year - should I have teal hair? Or not? Unlike the traditional scholar, my very embodiment of fandom is one of the things that helps me get my professional message across. To be honest, it’s part of my personal brand. With each client, I have to ask myself: what aspects of my personal fandom should I emphasize to most effectively get my points across? And that’s a worrying state of mind to get into: so calculating, it doesn’t feel fannish to me...

In comparison to these ethical conflicts (or ‘personal angsty excrescences,’ if you’d like), concerns over the term ‘acafan’ seem to me to be - not unimportant, but certainly not immediate, personally. My current contributions to scholarly work are not likely to go much further than a really good meta might. My contributions to the Alchemists, on the other hand, might influence the policies of next year’s TV lineup - which I think most people would rightly be concerned about! But there’s no pat term to speak about the conflict of professional and fannish responsibilities outside the academic realm.


Kristina Busse (http://kristinabusse.com) is an English Ph.D. who teaches in the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Alabama. Kristina is co-editor of Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet (McFarland, 2006), and of the forthcoming collection Transmedia Sherlock (McFarland, 2012).  She is founding coeditor of the fan studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures.

Flourish leads the Fan Culture Division at The Alchemists Transmedia Storytelling Co. She writes transformative works of fiction – both interactive and non-interactive – and studies fandom and popular culture. She is also a lecturer in the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and earned a S.M. in that same program; before that, she earned a B.A. in religion from Reed College. By the time she was 14, she had helped co-found FictionAlley.org, a Harry Potter fan fiction website. Most recently, she has been secretary of the board for HPEF Inc., which puts on educational conferences centering around Harry Potter.

Nancy Baym (http://www.nancybaym.com) is a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. Her recent work on independent Swedish musicians, labels and fans has been published in Popular Communication, The International Journal of Cultural Studies, and First Monday. She blogs (now and then) at http://onlinefandom.com and collects links about artist-audience relationships at blog.beautifulandstrange.com.

Date: 2011-06-29 09:05 pm (UTC)
robin_anne_reid: (Academia)
From: [personal profile] robin_anne_reid
Kristina, Nancy, and Flourish: The discussion about the issue of academic generations, disciplinary differences, and fandom history/experience was excellent--I should say up front I know Kristina and Flourish personally, so I may be a bit more informal at you all than with Nancy!

Just to position myself in the generations/disciplines discussion: I'm 55, but didn't get my doctorate until I was in my thirties, so my chronological generation is not linked to my academic generation (I stomped out of academia in 1982 because of sexism and didn't return for five years, not until I could work with feminist and gender theories). After graduating, I spent ten years happily writing scholarship on feminism and science fiction until fandom ambushed me--in 2003. Kristina was there! She will remember!

I teach creative writing and critical theory, and until I got into online media fandom, I wrote primarily poetry--but began writing fiction when I wrote fan fiction, and I do write Real People Slash (LOTR actors, not musicians). Every area of fandom differs, but I do not believe or frame my work as writing about real people--it is solely based on the public personas of the actors (in the DVD special features, in media interviews), and while I can understand Nancy's point, my response to that argument which has been made in fandom in fandom has always been that while professional magazines make millions if not billions featuring horrific stories about celebrities' weight, drug addiction, homosexuality (or lack of), orgies, alien babies, oops that last one crept in from the other weird magazines, I'm not going to condemn fans for publishing clearly disclaimed fictions and fantasies about celebrities who live in a world in which their bodies and personas are marketed daily as "sexy."
It's a problematic world, I'll admit, but in the overall context, I do not see RPS as that harmful on the systemic level--while being 1000% with Kristina on fans not shoving things at the actors. I also allow fan fiction in my intro creative writing course.

Nancy: I like your comment about being a "qualitative internet researcher who studied what fans do" instead of a "fandom scholar." In this context, I assume "fandom scholar" means "a scholar of fandom" rather than a fan writing scholarship for fandom (Matt Hills term, fan scholar). I am very interested in how "fan studies" especially by identified acafans (I consider myself an acafan) exists in one space, and how internet studies (covering all sorts of other internet communities, technologies, issues) exists on another--and also have "sports fans" and to some extent "music fans" (and the scholars studying them exist in other spaces). I'm collaborating with a colleague in psychology on my campus--he says a lot of psychology scholarship on fans focuses on sports fans--he's trying to argue to bring in more sff fans (recently attending a furry convention). I recently attended Popular Culture hoping to see scholarship on sport and music as well as sff fandom, and was thrilled to hear some excellent papers. I'd like to see more dialogue between internet researchers in different disciplines working with different groups/communities/technologies. Some of the gaps are linked to the fact that we're working with different disciplinary journal and conventions--my friends in sociology tell me that there are certain key conventions and journals they must publish in (thank goodness for the current database system which lets me search different disciplinary groups).

I also completely agree that ethical concerns are not unique to fandom--as a result of my work with internet fandom (and I had to educate myself about ethical issues, and can recommend, highly, the Association of Internet Researchers, aoir.org), I ended up serving on my university's Institutional Review Board. The internet does change "human subjects" research, but while sff fans may consider themselves unique (we always did), I'm not sure in the context of research that they are -- internet researchers may be studying pornography sites, baking sites, twitter, and who knows what else--and while methodology may well affect the project, I'm not sure the identity or identities of the group should (which is why flexibility and process oriented thinking are important).

Flourish: Fascinating point about the band member:fanfic writer and fan:academic writer comparison! You point out the important differences, but there are enough comparisons in the analogy to make it worth thinking about.

As I said to Nancy above, the ethical requirements for doing human subjects research (with the variants allowed by the internet) are similar for ANY research involving any population on the internet (with variants based on methodology, and on the nature of the site, and other issues). But the point is that there are so many communities and not for profit creative sites online, i.e. Convergence Culture, DUDEZ!, that it's not just fandom that internet researchers study. And while I agree an acafan studying fandom is a different position than an outsider--that position is basically (as I understand it) the insider participant which is part of an anthropological model. So, again, not unique to fandom (which you may not have been arguing). That insider position may well lead an academic to make choices not required by disciplinary ethical standards because of being inside the community--but that's always based on the academic and the community (and you may well agree--I know you all had word limits!).

But I don't at all agree that (all) fans who read an academic work about fandom should be able to feel good i.e. represented and not miserable, as opposed to "misrepresented and kind of miserable" as some goal--even if it could be achieved, when it is not.

I mean, I'm trying as a white woman to write about racism issues in fandom--I'm fairly sure that there are some white fans in fandom who will read my work and feel miserable and misrepresented (based on Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States) (http://books.google.com/books/about/Racism_without_racists.html?id=VGjeQkdwV18C).
As Bonilla-Silva says (I’m working on a paper RIGHT now, and was just re-reading his work today): "The purpose of this book is not to demonize whites or label them 'racist.' Hunting for 'racists' is the sort of choice of those who practice the 'clinical approach' to race relations--the careful separation of good and bad….Because this book is anchored in a structural understanding of race relations, my goal is to uncover the collective practices (in this book, the ideological ones) that help reinforce the contemporary racial order…..Even with this caveat, some readers may still feel discomfort while reading this book. Since color-blind racism is the dominant racial ideology, its tentacles have touched us all and thus most readers will subscribe to some--if not most of its tenets, use its style, and believe many of its racial stories. Unfortunately, there is little I ca do to ease the pain of these readers, since when one writes and exposes an ideology that is at play, its' supporters 'get burned' so to speak.") (15).

I've been struggling with this project for some years now (gave my first presentation in um 2005 or 6, I think), and haven't come up with a satisfactory paper yet (am currently working on two different papers which may or may not be accepted).

Kristina: I’m first have going to backtrack to your intro where you talk about canonicity--as you know, a favorite topic of mine--then talk about the industry issue.

When I did my paper on vidding scholarship last year, I reviewed the literature--and know just about everybody who published in the special theme issue section--and started seeing the same vids talked about, and went, hmmm. I think that's a function of structure of the academic world--people interested in the same topic congregate (verb chosen with malice aforethought), share suggestions, especially when it's a new field or sub-field--and yes, academia creates canons (all the changes in the last few decades did not get rid of canons, just resulted in an explosion of canons--there is a canon of white feminist sf texts for examples, the lesbian separatist utopias, that everybody writes about). In the case of vidding, it's a VERY small group of scholars (that I could find in print), and very new--I anticipate that will change over the next 20 years.

And yet, fan studies tends to create its own version of a canon, and while I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, I do worry about the fact that we do it seemingly unthinkingly.

What do you mean by "unthinkingly"?

Because I'd bet that's true to some extent for every canon formation process--do the first people to write about a text in any genre do careful thinking beyond "nobody ever writes about X, and I love this text, and I'm going to write about it, AHAH!". There are clearly going to be ideological and emotional and personal choices for what any individual writes about -- but I'm a bit put off by the implication that fan studies is somehow different or unique, especially given the stereotypes based on gender in the academy. Plus, I'll note I see no such canon formation in the articles I read about fan fiction--though I'm a bit behind in that area (been working on a Tolkien grant and digital humanities grant the last year or so). I mean, I knew when you all began Transformative Works and Culture that it would be part of the academic engines of canon formation! Broadly speaking, I do agree that the major academic focus on slash may reflect a similar issue--but even there, the fluffy cuddly fic a friend of mine wrote about in her essay on Frodo and Sam is very different from the queer dark fic I wrote about in an article.
And yet I see some danger in creating our own academic canon, so to speak, of texts that fit our theoretical frameworks, texts that are sufficiently experimental, queer, political, or whatever else we may decide to focus on.

This implies that somehow other canons don't fit theoretical/ideological frameworks--which, I think they do. I'm not saying acafans should not be thinking critically about these issues and questions--but I think every academic should be (which is not to say they are).

Industry: I’m completely with you on not wanting to get involved with the industry as an academic or a fan. I think that the industry usages of fandom does need to be subjected to critical evaluation--and that is more likely to come from the academia (though I'd even be specific and say, SOME parts of the academia--not the parts that seem to get paid by corporations for research which I gather happens in *some* business scholarship--I still haven't recovered from the new business professor who told me that of course he made more than I did as a 12 year on humanities professor because, well, free market, or something! Or from hearing that business faculty here are paid to attend their 'conferences'--while on an interdiscipinary committee, I had to forcefully inform the business faculty that only rarely was a humanities prof paid to attend a conference, and it wasn't fair to judge them for not being paid and for asking for a lousy $700 in travel support).

And Nancy's comment about interviews with the actors, musicians and writers made me think about which parts of the industry get interviewed/paid attention to by academics (and another analogy--status in fandom often comes from how close on gets to The Celebrity; is that also a danger in academic work?). Is there work done with marketing departments? (I know there's a growing body of work by legal scholars on IP and copyright issues from a fandom perspective.) Is there work done on the movement of cultural products to other countries?

Flourish, I've written before about how many of the concerns expressed by the "study" of fandom by fans are directed at acafans, and seem to rarely (that I've seen) been directed at the corporate practices (that are not visible, and don't have a face, because they're using data mining and other anonymous electronic resources).

I'm interested and would like to hear more about what you think about the "balance" that needs to happen? My sense of the corporate powers that be is that there are widespread attempts to control and monetize product; that just as fans might be pressured to shut down their sites, so too publishers of academic monographs are pressured economically--i.e. diminishing respect for fair use (quotations) within scholarly works, especially for certain media corporations, and that corporations do not in fact acknowledge any rights or grant any authority to academics (speaking very very very broadly). I'm sure there can be differences between companies, but the big, the very very big, corporate owners do not seem to be interested in any sort of balance. But then I'm old and cynical and have seen too much tentacular spread of corporations in my life.


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