Theory

Theorizing a public engagement keystone: Seeing fandom's integral connection to civic engagement through the case of the Harry Potter Alliance

Ashley Hinck

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) has invited thousands of Harry Potter fans to view politics and activism through the lens of Harry Potter. HPA members have signed petitions, sent letters, made videos, and raised money in efforts to affect laws and public policies. These activities circulate and operate within the public sphere through an engagement with others. If we are to consider the political actions of fans, we must consider how fans insert arguments into the public sphere, constitute publics, and ultimately assert their own public subjectivities. By drawing on social movement and public sphere theory, I first develop the theoretical concept of the "public engagement keystone." I conceptualize the public engagement keystone as a touch point, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible. Next, I use the case of the HPA to demonstrate how the Harry Potter story operates as a public engagement keystone, opening the door to public subjectivities on par with the healthy public formation of John Dewey, Doug McAdam, or Peter Dahlgren. I offer an interdisciplinary approach to how fandom encourages and invites civic engagement. By doing so, public sphere theory can better account for a wider variety of types of civic engagement, including fandom activism.

[0.2] Keywords—Activism; Fandom; Public sphere

Hinck, Ashley. 2012. "Theorizing a Public Engagement Keystone: Seeing Fandom's Integral Connection to Civic Engagement through the Case of the Harry Potter Alliance." In "Transformative Works and Fan Activism," edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 10. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0311.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) has invited thousands of Harry Potter fans to view politics and activism through the lens of Harry Potter. HPA members have signed petitions, sent letters, made videos, and raised money in efforts to affect laws and public policies. The HPA, founded in 2005, has conducted 25 social justice campaigns and boasts 120,000 members. In a single campaign to end the genocide in Darfur, the HPA donated more than $10,000, helped collect 7,500 petition signatures, mailed postcards to President Obama, and increased total phone calls made to 1-800-GENOCIDE by more than 50 percent. During an auction to raise money to help respond to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the HPA donated more than $123,000 to the nonprofit organization Partners for Health. The HPA donated more than 55,000 books to nonprofits in the Mississippi Delta and a youth village in Rwanda. Last year, the HPA won the Chase Community Giving contest, in which the HPA beat out more than 10,000 other charities to receive the most votes, earning a $250,000 grant from JP Morgan Chase ("HPA 5 year Anniversary BLOWOUT" 2010; "Success Stories" 2010; "What We Do" 2010).

[1.2] The HPA invites members to engage in very traditional expressions of citizenship: petitioning, donating money, sending letters to government representatives, and so on. Yet these traditional expressions of citizenship are still met with skepticism by scholars of civic engagement because they are done in the name of Harry Potter, instead of solely in the name of duty to one's country or ideological commitment to a political party. While fandom scholars might immediately recognize the connection between fandom and politics, Buckingham (2000), Gray (2006), and Marcus (2002) have all shown that those outside of fan studies have questioned the legitimacy of entertainment media's role in citizenship and civic engagement. It seems scholars of civic engagement, politics, and communication are still hesitant about young people blending the Democratic Party with Harry Potter. In online discussions of the MacArthur Foundation series on Digital Media and Learning and quoted in Civic Life Online, David Buckingham raises such questions. Thinking specifically about the Daily Prophet, a Harry Potter fan-operated newspaper, Buckingham wonders whether some examples of fandom activism are better characterized as media engagement than civic engagement (Bennett 2008, 4).

[1.3] In some ways, Buckingham is right. Most studies of fandom activism examine how fans mobilize themselves to defend their media text (Jenkins 1992; Harris and Alexander 1998). The studies that consider political or social issues focus on personal transformation rather than mobilization (Jenkins 1992; Radway 1991; Enstad 1999). That is, they consider how media texts offer fans a more manageable arena to reconsider social and political issues within a personal context. Few studies have considered the intersection of the two: large-scale mobilizations of fans that also affect political institutions. This is the kind of action Buckingham might more readily characterize as civic engagement because of its mobilization of citizens of the polis and success in impacting deliberation within the public sphere (Bennett 2008, 4). The case of the HPA offers fandom scholars an opportunity to consider how fans affect the public sphere, and thus how fandom can be integrally connected to public engagement. If we are to consider the political impact of fans, we must consider how fans insert arguments into the public sphere, constitute publics, and ultimately assert their own public subjectivities.

[1.4] Here I take up the question of how fandoms and their fan groups become publics—groups of people who affect and act within the public sphere. When it comes to public engagement, fan groups can operate in much the same way the Democratic Party might. Political party affiliations, neighborhood membership, and civic organizations are the traditional building blocks of citizenship. These institutions and memberships help individuals view themselves as citizens or members of a public, meaning that individuals view themselves as having a stake in public life, politics, and the lives of people around them. Fandom can function similarly, as a way to come to see oneself as a member of the public, capable of civic engagement.

[1.5] To understand how fandom can be integrally connected to public formation, I examine the HPA, a nonprofit organization that uses parallels between Harry Potter and the real world to do social justice activism. I use the HPA to demonstrate how Harry Potter opens the door to public subjectivities on a par with the healthy public formation described by John Dewey, Doug McAdam, or Peter Dahlgren. By drawing on social movement and public sphere theory, I develop a theoretical concept of the public engagement keystone. I conceptualize the public engagement keystone as a touch point, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible. I argue that the HPA uses the Harry Potter story as a public engagement keystone to invite public formation in three ways. First, the HPA invites its members to insert arguments into the public sphere through institutional and expressive actions and discourse. Second, I argue that the HPA public engagement keystone enables the HPA to invite its members to cultivate public subjectivities, making public engagement newly intelligible to Harry Potter fans. Third, the HPA privileges discursive engagement by establishing an ethic of action that must be performed within the public sphere. Ultimately, this project brings together literature on fandom and literature on the public sphere to consider how fandom encourages, invites, and demands civic engagement.

2. Locating the public sphere in fandom activism scholarship

[2.1] Fan studies has grown into a robust field as scholars engage in key debates, including concern with studying both individual fans and fan communities, considering both fans and fan texts, finding fandom underground and in the mainstream, and studying fans for the sake of studying fans and to better understand other aspects of our social, political, and mediated lives (Hellekson and Busse 2006; Busse and Gray 2011; Sandvoss 2003, 2005; Gray 2006; Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007; Fiske 1992; Jenkins 1992). Key among these classic debates is fandom's relationship to social and political activism.

[2.2] Two areas of scholarship consider how fandom extends to the real world through activism: media as cultural resources and fan mobilization through media engagement. First, many scholars have considered how the texts of fandoms become cultural resources available to fans, allowing fans opportunities to redefine themselves and their social roles (Dell 1998; Enstad 1999; Radway 1991). Texts provide the cultural resources with which to examine difficult social and political questions in a more manageable context. For example, Henry Jenkins (1992, 82) explains that within Star Trek fandom, fans may consider discrimination or favoritism as they ask why Uhura has not been promoted but Chekov and Sulu have, and now each commands his own ship. In a similar vein, Nan Enstad (1999) argues that working-girl novels provided the cultural resources needed for women workers to reimagine themselves as both workers and ladies at the turn of the 20th century. Such reimagination made factory strikes for fair working conditions possible. Texts become cultural resources that can work against established orders and systems, offering a means to reconsider contested social and political questions, and allowing fans to redefine themselves.

[2.3] Fandom scholars have also documented instances when fans organized themselves and took collective action to protect their fandom texts. In Textual Poachers, Jenkins (1992, 28–33, 120–51) explores the case of the television show Beauty and the Beast (1987–89), in which fans mobilized to convince producers to return the show to the air after it was canceled. Other scholars have also paid close attention to media engagement by considering case studies focused on returning television shows to the air (Scardaville 2005; Harris 1998; Menon 2007; Earl and Kimport 2009). Even case studies about fan activism in sports focus on engagements with media industries, either in marketing or broadcast choices (Rowe 2010; Muller 2007). Fandom scholars have yet to consider how and why fans engage in collective action that affects political institutions.

[2.4] Fans are certainly well equipped for such activism. Liesbet van Zoonen (2005, 61–62) points out that fans already excel at the kinds of activities citizens engage in as part of democratic participation, such as deliberation, consensus seeking, and information filtering, as a part of involvement in a fan community's fan fiction practices. Henry Jenkins makes a similar point: "The political effects of these fan communities come not simply through the production and circulation of new ideas (the critical reading of favorite texts) but also through access to new social structures (collective intelligence) and new modes of cultural production (participatory culture)" (2006, 257). Van Zoonen and Jenkins are right to point to skill sets, organizational structures, and production practices that extend fandom to democratic participation. But even with these skills in place, not all fans choose to participate in public engagement. Public engagement continues to decline even as fandom activity continues to increase (Earl and Kimport 2009, 220–21; Bennett 2008; Coleman and Blumler 2009; Benkler 2006). Thus, fandom scholars are confronted with a number of questions: What encourages some fans to translate their fandom activities to civic engagement? How do some fans decide to engage in expressions of citizenship? How do fans come to see themselves as citizens? Ultimately, how do fans form publics that affect the public sphere?

[2.5] Jürgen Habermas's The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989) sparked an onslaught of academic scholarship on the public sphere. In this seminal book, Habermas advanced a notion of the public sphere as a discursive arena in which all citizens are free to rationally discuss public issues. He based his conceptualization on the coffeehouses and salons of Europe in the 18th century as places where citizens could come together to discuss issues of public concern. For Habermas, the public sphere is where deliberation between citizens occurs. This deliberation produces public opinion, which then influences the state.

[2.6] Despite the criticisms of Habermas's public sphere for its problematic exclusions and rational bias, Fraser (1992) argues that Habermas's conception of the public sphere is too useful to abandon. Fraser argues that scholars ought to articulate a new kind of public sphere, and he begins that articulation by conceptualizing the public sphere as composed of multiple publics. Since Fraser's initial critique, scholarship on the multiplicity of the public sphere through consideration of counterpublics has exploded, developing a robust area of research into the many publics and counterpublics of the public sphere (Felski 1989; Asen 2000; Brouwer and Asen 2010; Fraser 1992; Goodnight 1982; Hauser 1997; Warner 2002; Asen and Brouwer 2001).

[2.7] Coming to see oneself as a political subject means seeing oneself as a member of the citizenry, addressed by the government, and included as a member of the public. Being a political subject means being able to participate in the public sphere by contributing arguments and deliberating with other political subjects. Arguing that scholars should understand citizenship as a process, Dahlgren advances the theoretical concept of a civic culture as "a way to conceptualize the factors that can enhance or impede political participation—the enactment of citizenship understood as forms of social agency" (2005, 157). Citizens are social agents, Dahlgren posits, because of cultural factors. This perspective emphasizes the process of becoming a citizen through a cultural practice that involves values, affinity, knowledge, identities, and civic practices. Citizenship might be conceptualized as public engagement that results from understanding oneself as a public subject. In her study of 19th-century antislavery petitions signed by American women, Susan Zaeske (2002) emphasizes that subjectivity is a process. Women signed petitions to pledge support for freeing black slaves, but through the process of signing petitions, they began to see themselves as political subjects and as citizens (Zaeske 2002, 148).

[2.8] Building on earlier fan studies of fan identities, Matt Hills (2002) and Cornel Sandvoss (2005) shift fan studies' focus toward conceptualizations of fan subjectivities. Sandvoss (2005) argues that the fan text is an extension of the self, and through self-reflection between the fan and the object of fandom, the fan forms a subjectivity. Hills (2002) critiques implicit subjectivities found in fandom scholarship, arguing that fans' struggles to explain their process of becoming fans violates values of rational, comprehending subjects. By employing a suspensionist position that refuses to pronounce fandom as good or bad, fan studies scholars can begin to consider "what fandom does culturally rather than how fandom can be fitted into academic norms of 'resistant' or 'complicit' readings" (Hills 2002, xiii). Ultimately, Hills's emphasis on fan cultures "obliges us to consider the creative spaces of fans as subjects with psyches as well as members of 'interpretive communities'" (Hills 2002, xiii–xiv). Hills's and Sandvoss's conceptualizations focus attention on fan subjectivity, but a kind of subjectivity that is neither public nor political. To understand how fans come to see themselves as citizens, we must examine how fans constitute emerging publics that act in the public sphere.

3. Methodology and texts

[3.1] I use the HPA as a case study to start to reconsider our understanding of fannish activity as beyond traditional conceptualizations of public engagement. Founded in 2005, the HPA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to engage in social justice activism, using parallels between the real world and Harry Potter. The HPA has engaged in campaigns that support fair trade, workers' rights, same-sex marriage, and literacy, among others. Calling itself "Dumbledore's Army for the real world," the HPA tasks itself with carrying on Dumbledore's mission by waking up governmental bodies to injustices around the world. Among the HPA's more than 25 campaigns, I focus on the their first Darfur campaign because it was the HPA's first major campaign, setting a precedent for later social justice campaigns. The 2007–8 Darfur campaign consisted of blog posts and two podcasts, through which the HPA asked its members to contact government representatives, post photographs and videos to raise awareness, and raise money for Civilian Protection, a nonprofit organization that works to protect women in Darfur and civilians in Burma ("Success Stories" 2010; Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007).

[3.2] In December 2007, the HPA joined STAND, a student branch of the Genocide Intervention Network, for their annual STANDFast project. Participants in the project chose to give up one luxury item for a week, then donated the money they saved to STAND. The donations went to protect civilians in Darfur by providing alternative fuel, thus relieving refugees of the need to abandon the relative safety of refugee camps to collect firewood. HPA members gave up luxuries like morning coffee, books, and movie tickets, and donated the money they had saved (note 1). During the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, the HPA asked its members to not support Olympic sponsors who were implicitly funding the genocide in Darfur through overseas investments. While the campaign formally ended in 2008, the HPA continues to post blog entries updating its members on the situation in Darfur.

[3.3] For most HPA members, the Darfur campaign was their introduction. As its inaugural campaign, the HPA articulated its mission, ethics, and policy goals for Harry Potter fans for the first time. The HPA's first podcast introduced the Darfur campaign and the HPA. The podcast was titled "Becoming Dumbledore's Army: Harry Potter Fans for Darfur" and was broadcast as a special edition of PotterCast, one of the most well-known Harry Potter fandom podcasts. News outlets have long served an important role in fandom, in the form of fanzines (Lewis 1992, 22, 212–15) and now in the form of podcasts as well. Indeed, podcasts are characterized by an amateur aesthetic and low cost of production (Sterne et al. 2008), making them an ideal media form for many fandoms.

[3.4] The HPA's project was well received, with the first podcast being downloaded more than 120,000 times, a surprising and encouraging number for the fledgling nonprofit organization. The podcast features HPA staff members and Harry Potter fandom celebrities, as well as guest speakers like State Department ambassador Joe Wilson, MTV news journalist Jennifer Vineyard, former official for the Clinton administration John Prendergast, and peace activist Dot Maver (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007). For this article, I focus on the first Darfur campaign podcast, which I downloaded through the iTunes directory and analyzed as a transcript.

4. Theorizing public engagement keystones

[4.1] Through its rhetoric, the HPA invites Harry Potter fans to participate in public engagement, in many ways targeting the generations of youth that have been most criticized for political apathy (Bennett 2008). In this section, I explore how the HPA is able to construct an environment that invites fans to see themselves as citizens and political subjects. First, I link multiple theories of the formation of publics by turning to John Dewey, Peter Dahlgren, and Doug McAdam's explanations of the most basic requirements for healthy public formation. Second, I advance a theoretical conceptualization of the public engagement keystone.

[4.2] Peter Dahlgren, a media and communication scholar, argues that in the process of becoming citizens, anchoring is necessary. Dahlgren explains the "key assumption here is that a viable democracy must have an anchoring at the level of citizens' lived experiences, personal resources, and subjective dispositions" (2005, 158). Philosopher John Dewey (1954) shares with Dahlgren a similar affinity for anchoring individuals in community, though Dewey does so by emphasizing the importance of the local. For Dewey, the local is the instantiation of community, and as such involves communality, free and full communication, intimacy, and shared knowledge. These aspects of community are what give way to a shared sense of commitment and a recognition of direct consequences, both of which are requirements for well-functioning publics necessary for democracy. For Dewey, these characteristics rise out of everyday interaction—interaction that is face to face and makes a community a community. This common, regular interaction grounds or anchors the community and allows a public to come into existence. Without such grounding, cultivation of a public is not possible.

[4.3] Sociologist Doug McAdam (1986, 1988) makes a similar claim. McAdam examines volunteer applications submitted for participation in Freedom Summer, a summer-long effort organized in 1964 by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commission (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (CFO), in which mostly white, Northern college students traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and run citizenship schools. McAdam argues that both the applicants who followed through and participated in Freedom Summer, and the applicants who were accepted but withdrew, demonstrated similar levels of commitment to the ideology of SNCC, CFO, and the broader civil rights movement. The difference between the two groups was not the strength of ideological belief, but rather the strength of ties to the organization, other applicants, and other civil rights activist events and groups. McAdam explains, "An intense ideological identification with the values of the campaign acts to 'push' the individual in the direction of participation while a prior history of activism and integration into supportive networks acts as the structural 'pull' that encourages the individual to make good on his [or her] strongly held beliefs" (1986, 87–88). For McAdam, it is the intensity of the anchoring in a network or community that helps an activist move from passive belief in a social movement project to action.

[4.4] I wish to link the perspectives of anchoring, grounding, and strong ties by developing a theoretical conceptualization of the public engagement keystone. For Dahlgren, Dewey, and McAdam, anchoring and grounding are necessary starting points for an emergent public. Linking Dewey's grounding, Dahlgren's anchoring, and McAdam's strong ties under a single theoretical conceptualization offers three advantages. First, the development of the public engagement keystone helps us understand scholars like Dahlgren, Dewey, and McAdam as having similar projects. These scholars discuss similar concepts, though with different emphases and different terms. Bringing their concepts together under a single term clarifies scholarship in the field. Additionally, the varied research that can be seen contributing to a conceptualization of a public engagement keystone makes it a particularly rich theoretical concept for use in future scholarship.

[4.5] Second, the development of the public engagement keystone as a theoretical concept better allows scholars to talk across disciplines about public engagement. Fandom scholars cannot talk about fandom's public engagement as being anchored in the local in Dewey's sense. However, we might say that both Harry Potter and local communication serve to anchor an individual, offering the possibility for public formation. A term that encompasses the local, an anchor, and strong ties would allow sociologists, fandom scholars, political scientists, rhetoricians, and others to more easily talk about the process of public formation. Third, this term would allow scholars to better account for a wider variety of public formation. Fandom need not be an unusual exception to traditional public formation. By developing the theoretical conceptualization of the public engagement keystone, I seek to place fandom on par with the local as a legitimate method to healthy public formation.

[4.6] I conceptualize a public engagement keystone as a touch point, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible. A public engagement keystone accomplishes two things. First, it provides an orientation by metaphorically grounding and anchoring an individual. By theorizing a public engagement keystone, one can understand how an individual might be anchored in a local community like Madison, Wisconsin; anchored in a lived experience of racial oppression; or anchored by a philosophical framework like Catholicism. In each instance, the public engagement keystone serves to orient an individual by providing a way to understand others, and consequently a way to engage the public.

[4.7] Second, individuals strongly and intensely identify with a public engagement keystone. We can contrast the individual who has a philosophical framework of Catholicism but does not act upon it with another person who shares the same Catholic philosophical framework and feels compelled to act according to it, perhaps volunteering at his or her church's soup kitchen. The first person might adhere to the beliefs inherent in the ideology but only passively believe them, and would not identify strongly with them. The second person would strongly identify with the beliefs and therefore would feel compelled to act. Strong identification combined with a lens that makes other things intelligible creates an anchoring public engagement keystone.

[4.8] Taking my cue from Dewey, Dahlgren, McAdam, and others, I argue that public engagement keystones are necessary to cultivating publics. The HPA's traditional civic actions would have us predict that the HPA is grounded and anchored in a public engagement keystone because HPA members seem to be performing citizenship through public engagement, yet the HPA cultivates citizenship activities through nontraditional means—that is, through the use of a fictional story. By developing a theoretical concept of the public engagement keystone, I try to place fandom activism within the context of broader political activism. In this way, we might understand fandom activism not as an unusual departure from traditional public formation, but rather as an expected part of citizenship on par with more traditional public formations.

[4.9] How does the HPA invite formation of a public? First, the HPA frames its Darfur campaign as requiring public engagement, requiring members to insert arguments into the public sphere. Second, the HPA invites its members to come to see themselves as public citizens able and obligated to participate in public engagement. Here, I argue that the HPA deploys the Harry Potter story as a public engagement keystone, helping Harry Potter fans come to see themselves as public subjects that allow and require action within the public sphere. Lastly, I argue that the HPA constructs a broader ethic for its members that is grounded in practices of public engagement and necessitates performance within the public sphere.

5. Harry Potter fandom takes on the functions of a public

[5.1] The HPA invites Harry Potter fans to engage in activities beyond the regular purview of fandom by asking fans to sign petitions and send letters to government representatives, among others. These actions require HPA members to function as a public—that is, HPA members begin to address other citizens on public issues with the possibility of shifting public opinion and institutional actions at the governmental level. The HPA's podcast invites members to insert arguments into the public sphere through two types of actions and discourse: institutional and expressive.

[5.2] The institutional acts the HPA staff members invited Harry Potter fans to engage in are some of the most readily recognized and long-established forms of public engagement: petitions and letters sent to government representatives. First, through the use of petitions, the HPA asked Harry Potter fans to help stop the flow of money that enabled the Sudanese government to enact genocide (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 10) (note 2). Fans were invited to sign a petition to pressure Fidelity to change its holdings of some Chinese oil companies. The HPA also asked Harry Potter fans to pressure their government representatives to take action. One way to do that was to call 1-800-GENOCIDE, an antigenocide hotline that connected callers directly to their representatives in Congress and provided callers with updates about the situation in Darfur and related legislation (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 2). The HPA also encouraged its members to educate themselves on how their elected government representatives stood on the issue of Darfur by going to DarfurScores.org (http://darfurscores.org/). This nonprofit organization assigned each member of Congress a letter grade depending on his or her stance on Darfur. The HPA encouraged individuals to send their representatives a letter praising them if they had a good score and asking them to change their stance if they had a poor score (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 11). To further affect political institutions, the HPA asked its members to submit a YouTube video of a question for the July 23, 2008, primary debate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 13). All of these actions placed arguments about ending the genocide in Darfur into public spaces where these arguments might circulate further, might be noticed by other citizens and thus affect public opinion, and might directly affect political and social institutions through government leaders. By inviting Harry Potter fans to engage in activities that meet the functions of publics, the HPA invited fans to begin to form a public.

[5.3] In addition to utilizing traditional tactics to affect political and social institutions, the HPA also asked its audience members to engage in expressive and creative acts, demonstrating support and expressing their political position and identity. These creative acts were both public and political, placed in public spaces easily accessible to many and political in their overarching message. As additional messages inserted into the public sphere with the potential to affect public opinion, these expressive acts further bolstered the function of Harry Potter fans as a public. On the Darfur podcast, the HPA asks fans to post videos as part of 24 Hours for Darfur, a project that sought to create a 24-hour-long video composed of many individual video testimonials of citizens expressing their support for ending the genocide in Darfur. The HPA encouraged fans to "dress wizardly," sing, or rap (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 6). Guest speaker Joe DeGeorge from the band Harry and the Potters says, "Have fun, express yourself, and post it at 24 Hours for Darfur" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 6). As a publicly accessible Web site, 24 Hours for Darfur offers another avenue for Harry Potter fans to pledge support for intervention in the Darfur genocide and to ask other individuals to join them, thus potentially influencing public opinion and government representatives. Additionally, Andrew Slack, the Harry Potter Alliance executive director, asked fans on the podcast to post photos on CNN.com's Harry Potter edition of IReporter. CNN's IReporter asked Harry Potter fans to submit their photos and videos as IReporters and to "show their love for all things Harry Potter" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 14). However, Slack asked fans to show their Harry Potter love while also holding signs that said "Save Darfur." CNN's IReport offered the chance for HPA members to insert their arguments into the public sphere through traditional mass media messages that circulate through the public sphere. While CNN's goal may have been to cover Harry Potter fans, CNN's call opened up the opportunity for Harry Potter fans to ask CNN's viewers to "save Darfur."

[5.4] By asking fans to post videos and photos, write to their elected officials, and sign petitions, the HPA invites Harry Potter fans to function as a public by inserting arguments into the public sphere. But how does the HPA help fans come to see themselves as public subjects, capable of inserting arguments into the public sphere? How are fans invited to see themselves as public subjects capable of public engagement and obligated to take action? In the next section, I argue that the Harry Potter Alliance invites public engagement through the use of a public engagement keystone.

6. Emerging as a public through the use of a public engagement keystone

[6.1] For the HPA, the Harry Potter story operates as a public engagement keystone, opening up possibilities for fans to see themselves not only as fans, but also as public subjects. It is through the deployment of a public engagement keystone that the HPA is able to transform the Harry Potter Alliance members into an emerging public. The HPA draws on Harry Potter as a public engagement keystone by first orienting the Harry Potter fan to Darfur activism, then using the Harry Potter story as a lens, and next pushing fans to take action because of intense identification.

[6.2] In its podcast, the HPA invites Harry Potter fans to view the world in terms of Harry Potter equivalents or parallels. These parallels orient Harry Potter fans. Andrew Slack, HPA executive director, explains that the HPA seeks to fight "the Dark Arts in the real world by using Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore as role models" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 1). Here, Slack invites Harry Potter fans to follow the examples of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, acting as Harry and Dumbledore might if they were here in the real world. The characters of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore become comparisons, touchstones, or anchors for Harry Potter fans. Since news coverage of the Darfur genocide was somewhat sparse at the time of the podcast, the revelation that genocide was occurring could easily have been jarring. With so much new information and such a large, distant, and amorphous problem, it can often be difficult for citizens to determine where to start. Slack addresses this problem by using Harry and Dumbledore as anchors to provide a familiar starting point for Harry Potter fans. From there, HPA members can better grasp the problem and consider what actions to take. As anchors, characters like Dumbledore and Harry help fans orient themselves to other people and situations.

[6.3] These figures orient fans to the problem by offering an anchored starting place, but also provide a lens through which to view the problem. The HPA deploys the Harry Potter story as a public engagement keystone, which functions to make the problem of genocide intelligible to Harry Potter fans. At the beginning of the podcast, Andrew Slack says, "And what better way to send Harry off in his journey to destroy each Horcrux than in joining him in our global fight to destroy the Horcrux that is genocide once and for all, for the people of Darfur, and for the memories of all those who have been affected by genocide" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 1). Here, Slack reframes genocide as a Horcrux. By viewing the Darfur genocide through the lens of Harry Potter, it becomes clear that, like Horcruxes, the Darfur genocide is one of the biggest problems in the world, a problem that demands immediate action.

[6.4] The Harry Potter public engagement keystone makes not only the problem intelligible, but also the solution. Near the end of the podcast, Slack says, "When we, like Harry was in Dumbledore's office at the end of The Order of the Phoenix, get tired of being human, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are right there in the Gryffindor common room inside of us. Playing Wizard Chess, conspiring, laughing, and ready to take on the Dark Arts whatever it takes. Let's join them in that fight together, with our greatest weapon, love" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 15). Here, Slack articulates action as the solution, rejecting apathy. Slack responds to concerns that Harry Potter fans may feel as if the problem is too large, that they cannot make a difference, that the problem is so overwhelming it is better to ignore it. Through the Harry Potter public engagement keystone, Slack invites fans to respond to the overwhelming problem of genocide in the same way that Harry, Ron, and Hermione responded to the Dark Arts. While fans may not have cared much about the problem of Darfur before listening to the podcast, Slack asks fans to view themselves as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who took action even when it was hard, even when they were tired, even when it was dangerous. Through this lens, the solution to the problem of the Darfur genocide is to take action, rather than wait for others to step in. By serving as a lens through which to view public issues (both problems and potential solutions), the Harry Potter story serves as a public engagement keystone in the HPA's podcast rhetoric.

[6.5] The intense identification with the Harry Potter text and its characters grounds Harry Potter fans and pushes them not only to recognize what actions to take, but also to take those actions. When Slack asks fans to see themselves as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, he draws upon an intense identification fans have with the Harry Potter characters and a strong desire to be like those characters in particular ways. For HPA members, it is desirable to follow in Hermione, Ron, and Harry's footsteps. At the same time, it is problematic to be aligned with Lord Voldemort and his Horcruxes. HPA members come to the podcast with a strong judgment that Lord Voldemort is bad. When HPA staff align the genocide and Lord Voldemort, HPA members are faced with a choice of choosing not to participate in public engagement actions against genocide and thus be like Lord Voldemort, or to participate in public engagement and thus work against evils like Lord Voldemort. This intense identification with the Harry Potter public engagement keystone pushes fans to engage the public.

[6.6] The HPA deploys the Harry Potter story as a public engagement keystone, using Harry Potter as a starting point, a lens, and a source of intense identification to make public engagement intelligible and immediate to Harry Potter fans. So far, I have demonstrated how these functions of a public engagement keystone apply specifically to the case of the Darfur campaign. However, the HPA also deploys Harry Potter as a public engagement keystone in its broader mission. As a social justice organization, the HPA advances a particular ethic, or right way to act. I argue first that the HPA develops an ethic of discursive engagement through the use of a public engagement keystone. Next, I argue that this ethic is inherently political and public. If we conceptualize public engagement as deliberation, discussion, and talk with other people, the HPA's ethic is inextricably bound to ethics of public engagement. The HPA ultimately calls on its members to engage in citizenship through discourse and talk, achieved through translating Harry's duels with enemies into discursive engagement with citizens. Such an ethic places the HPA's actions firmly in the public sphere.

7. An ethic of discursive engagement

[7.1] The HPA constructs an ethic of speaking out through the use of the HPA public engagement keystone, one that takes discursive engagement as its central theme. The HPA calls itself a Dumbledore's Army for the real world. In the Harry Potter books, Harry forms a student group called the Defense Association when Professor Umbridge forbids students from learning defensive magic. When Umbridge finds out about the secret group, she uses it as an excuse to remove Dumbledore from his position as headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dumbledore had been speaking out against the Ministry of Magic, the government in the wizarding world. The Ministry of Magic had been reassuring the citizens that Lord Voldemort, a powerful and evil wizard, had not been regaining strength. Dumbledore was attempting to convince the public that Lord Voldemort had returned. Dumbledore was correct and Voldemort had indeed returned, but the Ministry refused to admit they failed to keep Voldemort at bay. The Ministry removed Dumbledore from his post at Hogwarts to silence his embarrassing accusations. Harry, Ron, and Hermione took responsibility for picking up where Dumbledore left off and transformed their Defense Association into Dumbledore's Army. As members of Dumbledore's Army, these students trained themselves in defensive magic in preparation for Voldemort's return, and they continued to work to wake up the ministry and the public to the truth of Voldemort's rise to power.

[7.2] In the podcast, the HPA explains that "we're gonna be talking about ways today that we can be like Dumbledore's Army, who woke the world up to Voldemort's return, and wake our ministries, our businesses, and our world to ending the genocide in Darfur" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 1). The HPA takes "waking up the world" as its mission. This is at its core a discursive mission, one defined through communication and awareness, rather than fund-raising goals or policy changes. The HPA explains they are "dedicated to spreading our love and fighting the Dark Arts in the real world" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 1). Here it becomes clear that discourse that wakes up the world is needed to fight the Dark Arts in the real world: social injustice. The HPA recasts Harry's violent fights and wizarding duels as discourse. Speaking out is what it takes to carry on the mission of Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

[7.3] The HPA's ethic of speaking out rejects apathy disguised as neutrality. Silence is compliance with the corrupt Ministry of Magic and Lord Voldemort's supporters. An ethic of speaking up requires regular performances, takes work, and is an accomplishment. Slack draws attention to Harry's choice to locate and destroy each Horcrux and explains that Harry recognized that the right path was the hard path. Slack says, "And in these dark and difficult times, where choices between what is right and what is easy continue to emerge, we have the opportunity to let our light shine" (Harry Potter Alliance and PotterCast 2007, 14). Slack frames the public engagement of Harry Potter fans as neither automatic nor easy. Rather, performing the ethic of speaking out through public engagement is most important in the most difficult times. The HPA constructs an ethic of discursive engagement through the Harry Potter fandom public engagement keystone.

8. Conclusion: Theorizing many kinds of citizenship

[8.1] I link multiple perspectives on how publics emerge through my advancement of a theoretical conceptualization of the public engagement keystone. I argue that the public engagement keystone offers an orientation to individuals, which makes consequences, problems, and people intelligible, and offers an anchor, which provides a reason or justification for action. By linking Dewey's grounding, Dahlgren's anchoring, and McAdam's strong ties, the public engagement keystone better accounts for a variety of public engagement activities in a variety of contexts. Importantly, it allows fandom scholars to place civic engagement done in the name of Harry Potter next to civic engagement done in the name of loyalty to a political party. This will, I hope, allow fandom scholars to better enter the conversation on public engagement, providing us with a more sophisticated vocabulary that translates between 1960s civil rights action and 2007 Harry Potter campaigns.

[8.2] A more expansive conceptualization of a public engagement keystone might open up other cases in which people have found reasons to participate in public engagement beyond political party membership or social movement involvement. If we search for other public engagement keystones in media texts, lived experiences, and beyond, we might find innovative public engagement. This becomes an important task for public sphere and fandom scholars in an era when civic engagement is often said to be declining (Coleman and Blumler 2009; Benkler 2006; Bennett 2008). Perhaps fandom activism as public engagement done in the name of a media text does not operate as far beyond the conventions of traditional public engagement as some like to think.

9. Acknowledgments

[9.1] I thank Jonathan Gray, Kyra Hunting, Rob Asen, Rob Howard, and Anne Szczubelek for their valuable insights. Research was approved by the University of Wisconsin–Madison's institutional review board.

10. Notes

1. It is important to note that giving up one's morning Starbucks coffee was the primary example offered by STAND and the HPA of the kind of luxury individuals could give up. Both STAND and the HPA operate on the assumption that many of their members have such luxuries to give up, restricting participation in the campaign to middle- and upper-class individuals with disposable income.

2. All page numbers cited for the HPA podcast refer to page numbers in the printed transcript. The transcript had a total of 16 pages.

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