Interdisciplinary methodologies for the fan studies bricoleur

Naomi Jacobs

Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—As a relatively young field, which brings together scholars from a wide variety of different home disciplines, fan studies faces questions of disciplinary cohesion and methodological practice. Moving from a multidisciplinary space to an interdisciplinary field that creates new synergistic knowledge is facilitated by cross-discipline communication and collaboration. However, this is impeded by many barriers. Examining the history of design research provides useful parallels that may help us learn from the experiences of researchers who faced similar concerns. A bricolage approach will allow scholars in new fields of knowledge to benefit from an interdisciplinary landscape that provides methodological breadth. By using such an approach, fan studies researchers can borrow or synthesize the tools most appropriate to their research questions; for example, participatory action research is a methodology that fan studies researchers may find useful. Participatory approaches may cut through issues of fan/academic positioning and contribute to research with positive social value.

[0.2] Keywords—Bricolage; Collaboration; Participatory action research

Jacobs, Naomi. 2020. "Interdisciplinary Methodologies for the Fan Studies Bricoleur." In "Fan Studies Methodologies," edited by Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33.

1. Introduction

[1.1] As fan studies becomes more established as a field of study, attention has focused not only on key topics within this field but also the nature and composition of fan studies research itself, and how and why it is undertaken (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2017). This includes methodological interrogation and attempts to identify what methodologies and methods might be used by fan studies researchers. The goal of exploring these questions is to develop more considered and rigorous scholarship (Evans and Stasi, 2014).

[1.2] Fan studies is increasingly spoken of as a new discipline, but is still in the process of defining itself as such. Fan studies is also in the process of bringing multidisciplinary work together under an umbrella of shared interest and goals (Turk 2018). There is plausibly a link between these two aspects. If disciplines are structures within which we group knowledge, and a goal of academia is the creation of new knowledge, then it seems to follow that in some cases, new disciplinary groupings will be required to encompass this expanded knowledge base. These new knowledge areas are often likely to develop at the edges between existing disciplines, combining previously isolated areas of scholarship in new ways (Siedlok and Hibbert 2009). Such novel combinations of ideas, people, and disciplines are productive areas, thought to increase creativity and generate breakthrough research results. (Carayol and Nguyen Thi 2005).

[1.3] The realization of such combinatory research areas has practical difficulties that can be challenging to overcome (Jacobs and Amos 2012). There are many barriers that can make it difficult to move beyond existing structures, impeding the spread of knowledge between researchers who originate in different areas. In addition to logistical issues, combining work with different origins can and has led to methodological conflict or confusion (Evans and Stasi 2014). Fan studies is not unique in this regard, and other disciplines have in the past faced similar challenges. In considering how to approach the development of methodological structures in this new space, we might therefore look to lessons learned by other youthful disciplines that have faced related challenges during a relatively short history. In this case, I would like to use design research as such a comparison.

[1.4] In this paper, I begin by giving a short introduction to the history of fan studies as a young, multidisciplinary field. I then provide a short history of design research, a young discipline with comparably multidisciplinary origins, highlighting similarities in trajectory and opportunity. I outline a range of barriers that can impede interdisciplinary collaboration and suggest potential solutions in overcoming them, following which I provide questions that fan studies should ask in its progression to becoming a distinct discipline with its own methodological approaches. The paper concludes by recommending that fan studies researchers take a bricolage approach to methodologies, describing how underused existing methodologies such as participatory action research might be embraced to enrich fan studies research. With such methodological poaching, and the development of novel approaches unique to fan studies, we can thus equip a broad interdisciplinary fan studies methodological toolbox.

2. The origins and composition of fan studies

[2.1] Fan studies is relatively new as a discrete area of research. The first cohesive wave of scholarly work in this area is generally agreed to have originated in the early 1990s, including authors such as Henry Jenkins (1992), Camille Bacon-Smith (1992), John Fiske (1992), and Nancy Baym (1993). Research published during this period was the first to move from description of fan behavior in terms of deviation, aberration, and pathology characteristic of earlier work (Jenson 1992) toward a picture of mutually supportive communities placing themselves in opposition to the cultural mainstream and creating active counter content. This set the context for later waves of study that were able to consider specific tensions and consumption models within fan cultures, and fandom as a manifestation of wider social and cultural hierarchies and subcultures (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2017). If we take the early 1990s texts as the seed point for the formation of an academic field, this gives us a short history to examine—no more than thirty years. Dedicated journals and academic conferences in this space are even more recent. For example, the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Fandom Studies and the first Fan Studies Network conference both took place in 2013. In the timescales of academic evolution, this is no time at all. It is no wonder then that we are still in the early stages of discussion about what exactly fan studies research looks like, and how it should be carried out.

[2.2] Fan studies is also notable for having arisen at the boundary of several different existing disciplines. It is not, for example, simply a subspecialization of media and cultural studies, though this is the originating discipline of much early work. This cross-disciplinary space is a useful territory in which to develop new scholarship: Crane (1972) notes that the effective creation of knowledge often occurs via the "cross-fertilization of fields." For an indication of the available disciplinary breadth, an examination of Fan Studies Network conference contributors reveals researchers with home disciplines including, among others, film studies, theater, digital humanities, library and information science, modern languages, media and cultural studies, law, English, history, design, computer science, anthropology, and sociology. By virtue of these broad origins, fan studies research is therefore also often methodologically eclectic, with published work using diverse approaches and a wide range of methods: traditional and autoethnographies, textual analysis and criticism, quantitative data analysis, and feminist approaches, among many others.

[2.3] Tisha Turk, writing on the disciplinary diversity of fan studies research, makes an important point regarding how we think about a field or discipline that includes contributions from a variety of others. Although often assumed to be interdisciplinary, a more accurate term to use for the current state of fan studies research might be multidisciplinary (Turk 2018). Research is being carried out that originates in a range of disciplines, but there is still limited cross-disciplinary collaborative work, and exchange of knowledge happens slowly. This also complicates discussions of methodology. There are currently very few university departments that offer dedicated training in fan studies research and its processes; therefore, research on fan studies topics is likely to be undertaken from different ontological and epistemological starting points, with researchers using different methods and methodologies based on the discipline in which they were taught. Current scholarly discussions have only relatively recently begun to address overarching methodological questions (Evans and Stasi 2014), with new work, including this special issue, seeking to examine these concerns and potentially identify common frameworks within which diverse methodologies can be structured. In order to develop fan studies into a discipline that is truly interdisciplinary in its research practice, we must facilitate scholarship that is able to synthesize diverse areas of knowledge that are being brought together.

3. Where others have gone before: Lessons from design

[3.1] The challenges to fan studies as a young, multidisciplinary field wishing to integrate and synthesize knowledge from its multiple contributing disciplines are not insignificant. However, fan studies is not alone in facing such challenges, and rather than reinvent processes that have already been explored by others, we might look to some of these prior learnings as examples of how to proceed (or, in some cases, how not to). As an example of how we might productively approach the question of methodological coherence, we can look for comparison to a similarly constructed discipline: that of design research.

[3.2] Design research as a distinct field originated in the 1960s. In contrast to fan studies, which saw seminal texts draw a coalescence of related research that only later provoked intense methodological discussion, the study of design as a significant process and field of study itself developed from design methods literature and discussion. While design as a practice was a key component of several fields, such as architecture and engineering, this new field undertook for the first time rigorous analysis of the systems and theory of design, and the role of the designer in society (Bayazit 2004). Design research is the study of both design and designers' practices, and is itself a form of knowledge production enabled through the act of design. As such, it is closely interlinked with design practice, and includes abductive reasoning alongside the more traditional approaches of inductive or deductive reasoning (Faste and Faste 2012). Design research creates knowledge-based as well as applied outcomes in physical and digital products, spaces, communications, services, organizations, and policies, and many design researchers will also be practitioners and designers themselves.

[3.3] The defining moment for modern design research is generally held to be the Design Methods Conference held at Imperial College London in 1962 (Cross 1993). It was not until some time later that dedicated journals were founded, primarily Design Studies in 1979, Design Issues appearing in 1984, and Research in Engineering Design in 1989. Methodological construction was ongoing, though: published in 1970, Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures by John Chris Jones introduced a range of methods that could be used by designers, most of which were adapted from other fields (Margolin 2010). Jones was among a number of "second wave" design researchers who pushed back against early formalization, with Horst Rittel categorizing many design problems as "wicked," with ill-formulated questions and complex solutions. He proposed new methods that introduced user involvement in design decisions to address perceived flaws in earlier methods and approaches (Bayazit 2004).

[3.4] The editorial introduction to Bruce Archer's contributions in the first issue of Design Studies makes the following statement regarding intention of the new journal—questions that may strike a chord with fan studies scholars attempting to define the boundaries and definitions of their new discipline, and which we will return to later:

[3.5] The questions or issues that these papers are expected to address include: Can design be a discipline in its own right? If so, what are its distinguishing features? (What are the kind of features that distinguish any discipline?) To what questions should the discipline address itself—in both research and teaching? What methodology does it use? What results—what applications—should it be trying to achieve? (Archer 1979, 17)

[3.6] As with fan studies, methodological questions in design persist, and this is again linked closely with multidisciplinary origins. Nigel Cross (1999) highlighted the wide range of fields that contribute to design research, but also cited an RCA report by Archer et al. (1979) emphasizing that it is necessary to recognize that design has its own "things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them" (Cross 1999, 7).

[3.7] A history-based journal such as Journal of Design History clearly draws upon paradigms of scholarship in the arts and humanities, and an engineering-based journal such as Research in Engineering Design leans heavily on the research paradigm of the natural sciences. But the important thing is that collectively we have the possibility of adding to these other paradigms and of developing our own design research culture. (Cross 1999, 5)

[3.8] Many methods adopted by design researchers are borrowed from related fields that have contributed to design research. Examples include participatory methods, action research, and ethnography. The ability to borrow, create, and combine methodologies has been described as methodological bricolage, and this is increasingly being used in design research (Yee and Bremner 2011). In coining the term in 1966, Levi-Strauss describes a bricoleur as a "Jack of all trades or a kind of professional do-it-yourself person" (Levi-Strauss 1966, 17). Nelson, Treichler, and Grossberg, applying this to the methodology of cultural studies, note that "Its methodology, ambiguous from the beginning, could best be seen as a bricolage. Its choice of practice, that is, pragmatic, strategic and self-reflective" (Nelson, Treichler, and Grossberg 1992, 2). They suggest that no methodologies should be privileged as infallible, nor dismissed out of hand as useless, but that the historical origins should also be critically considered when they are being employed. Denzin and Lincoln (2000) develop these ideas of bricolage further, describing various categories of bricoleur qualitative researcher: interpretive, narrative, theoretical, and political. In each case, diversity, interaction, and a breadth of approach is key.

[3.9] In using such a bricolage approach, and creating a space in which to specifically focus on research about design as a specific field of inquiry, design researchers have had the opportunity not only to gather poached or scavenged methodologies from diverse fields such as anthropology, architecture, and marketing, but also to create brand-new methodological approaches that are uniquely suited to design, and can address the complex challenges posed. An example of one of these new methodologies is design fiction, which draws on a longer history of critical and speculative design. Design fiction, a term coined by science fiction author Bruce Sterling (2005), was popularized by Julian Bleecker's 2009 essay in which he described how "design can be a way of creating material objects that help tell a story" (Bleeker 2009, 6). A key feature of speculative design is that it enables thinking about the future and critiquing of current design practice. Both speculative design and design fiction are used "not to show how things will be but to open up a space for discussion" (Dunne and Raby 2014). While a precise definition of design fiction is still elusive (Lindley and Coulton 2015), Sterling's updated description is a good starting point: "Design Fiction is the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change" (Bosch 2012). A key aspect is that these prototypes are physical manifestations of a fictional shift in the world, which may reflect alternate pasts or presents, or speculated futures.

[3.10] Parallels are apparent between the first part of the sixty-year history of design research, and the thirty-year history to date of fan studies research. This is particularly notable regarding the interdisciplinarity of researchers and associated diversity of methodologies in each. At the fiftieth anniversary conference of the Design Research Society, Atkinson and Oppenheimer suggested the discipline of design is at the dawn of a new era of rigorous interdisciplinary collaboration. "This stretches to include practice methods, research, writing and diverse collaborations across academic colleagues for various disciplinary enclaves" (Atkinson and Oppenheimer 2016, 1). This would also seem a positive goal for fan studies. However, interdisciplinary collaboration is challenging, and many barriers must be overcome to carry it out successfully.

4. Overcoming challenges to interdisciplinary collaboration

[4.1] In both fan studies and design research, existing diversity of research is being brought together, and through synthesis, is also creating new knowledge structures. This can be challenging. Disciplines exist in order to demarcate areas of interest, fostering the development of unique worldviews by concentrating researcher experience, perceptions, and ways of framing knowledge (Lattuca 2002). This increases efficiency of communication and interaction within disciplines (Bruce et al. 2004) but can often create arbitrary boundaries that act as a barrier to those who wish to cross between them. Encouraging multidisciplinary journals and conferences where knowledge can pass from scholar to scholar is critical to overcome this. Another solution, which Turk (2018) encourages, is the facilitation of cross-disciplinary collaboration, where scholars work together to create new knowledge that is jointly within two disciplines, or at the boundary space between them, rather than moving from one into others. There are, however, significant barriers to undertaking such collaborative work.

[4.2] Building the wheel is difficult enough when one person builds the wheel; now try to have three to five people working on the wheel with different tools and different ideas about what kind of bike it will go on. (Morse et al. 2007, 9)

[4.3] Barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration function at different levels. Some are due to cultural differences between the disciplines themselves, which manifest in terms of language and understanding. Over time, disciplines necessarily gather specific terminologies and language uses. These facilitate communication within the discipline, providing new specific meanings that act as a shorthand for complex concepts and ideas (Frost and Jean 2003). When others from outside the discipline are exposed to these same terms, however, they can be perceived as jargon and impede communication, as well as the reach and cross-disciplinary accessibility of research. Disciplinary differences in language use may also be more subtle, with similar terms being used to describe very different phenomena, or different languages and contexts describing what might actually be similar areas of interest. As an example, we might look to the historically limited communication between research on popular culture fans and sports fans, fields which have evolved along different trajectories. While often examining similar phenomena and fan behaviors, work in these fields originates in different home disciplines and may therefore use different terminology, or conceptualize key concepts differently (Schimmel, Harrington, and Bielby 2007).

[4.4] Disconnects of language can also apply to theoretical approaches themselves. The concept of a "model" means very different things in biology (a sketch describing key concepts and ideas in a qualitative illustration) and engineering (complex mappings that include mathematical descriptions and can be used to construct simulations and make predictions) (Tadmor and Tidor 2005). Bridging such linguistic and conceptual divides can be challenging, but overcoming apparent differences to find similarities can lead to valuable insights. For example, Evan Hayles Gledhill (2018) uses the concept of bricolage to situate commonalities between uses of nineteenth-century commonplace books and Tumblr.

[4.5] Disciplines are also situated within specific research paradigms and associated ontological and epistemological values. Differing epistemologies can have practical impacts on research and analysis methods, as this anecdote from Aragón et al. (2012) demonstrates:

[4.6] A sociologist and a computer scientist are brainstorming about a new research project to study an online social network.

The sociologist expresses concerns regarding the size of the sample, wanting to have at least a couple of hundred users included in the study.

The computer scientist responds, "Either we study the whole network of 10 million users, or it doesn't make sense to study it at all!" (Aragón et al. 2012, 1)

[4.7] These kinds of data analysis questions and other practical differences, such as variance in norms when considering the ethics of how to cite fan-created material (Busse 2012), could act as barriers to collaborative fan studies research. However, there are also barriers that do not just make the research itself more complex, but prevent collaborations from arising in the first place. It is worth noting that the practice of collaboration itself may vary in frequency between disciplines. For example, it is much more common in STEM subjects to undertake collaborative work than in the humanities, where collaborative writing is undervalued and sole-authored works are often given more weight (Turk 2018). These norms and practices can influence individual choices on whether to seek out collaboration.

[4.8] Structures that surround the research process can also prevent the initiation of collaborations, and make their progress more difficult. Sung et al. (2003) describe how tribal loyalties to disciplinary norms can be strong. This is exacerbated by the view that time taken to explore a second field of knowledge is time taken away from mastery of one's own discipline. This can give rise to prejudice against interdisciplinary scholars—an assumption that their studies are superficial, and that they are less competent overall than those who have remained specialists and focused on a single discipline (Siedlock and Hibbert 2014; Lyall 2019). Fan studies also faces a particular challenge in that the field itself can be perceived as superficial and lacking in scholarly relevance, and thus introducing interdisciplinarity may compound this perception.

[4.9] In order to overcome these barriers of understanding and expectation, we must ensure that fan studies, like design, is built upon awareness of value that can come from multidisciplinary origins. Prejudices against interdisciplinary work should be understood as such, and efforts made to overcome them. Kincheloe notes that the question of disciplinarity/interdisciplinarity is fundamental to the deployment of bricolage, and describes it as a process of disrupting and destroying disciplinary segmentation, where "research bricoleurs pick up the pieces of what's left and paste them together as best they can." (Kincheloe 2001, 681). He suggests that the methodological bricoleur should thoroughly interrogate their own discipline, understanding its systems of power, arbitrary boundaries, and processes of knowledge production. Examining both restrictive and positive properties, they can then move outwards to ask questions of other disciplines, facilitating understanding of power relationships within and between disciplines, and an underlying understanding of how one might achieve rigorous work in an interdisciplinary space that does not diminish disciplinary strengths but is also not restricted by regulated knowledge processes. Turk's analysis of foregrounding interdisciplinary methodological discussion in fan studies echoes this:

[4.10] Being more overtly interdisciplinary would allow us to better understand each other and, further to borrow from each other, to recognize the affordances and limitations of different approaches and combine our own training and habits of mind with the tools of other disciplines when appropriate. (Turk 2018, 545)

[4.11] The above solutions invite individual researchers to examine their research practices and be open to communication and breaking down preconceptions. However, in order to achieve this, structural change may also be necessary. Skills to overcome prejudices and facilitate collaborative working must be included early in the research training process, which requires input from established academics and institutional support. Many aspects of the university system are structurally predicated on disciplines being distinct. Most academic institutions are organized into schools or departments, often geographically separated on different floors, different buildings, or even different campuses of the same institution. This makes it difficult to meet potential collaborators. But more fundamentally, reporting and reward structures are often also disciplinarily based (Lyall 2019). For example, although cross-disciplinary work is encouraged in the UK's Research Excellence Framework (REF) evaluation process, it is still necessary to report based on thirty-four units of assessment that fall under traditional disciplinary identifications such as chemistry, law, or art and design. Similarly, funding structures are often not set up for interdisciplinary research, and if researchers wish to undertake research that falls outside these parameters it may be necessary to undertake this in addition to normal research (Siedlok and Hibbert 2009).

[4.12] Individual evaluation and validation mechanisms too are often disciplinarily bounded. Interdisciplinary journals are less likely to have high impact factors or be highly regarded (often due to their relative youth) and publication in these is less likely to contribute favorably to promotion for academics. The peer-review system, too, may be less favorable to interdisciplinary research, as it is more difficult to find appropriately qualified reviewers, and reviews may be poor if the research is not easily understood by someone without broad expertise. Independent researchers who are not beholden to these systems of formal advancement will experience their own challenges of recognition and support.

[4.13] These challenges of support and recognition are magnified in the specific case of fan studies, because existing power relationships between fan studies and other disciplines are unbalanced, with much research already being conducted peripherally by researchers bound within traditional institutional structures. The introduction of interdisciplinary collaboration must be carefully managed to avoid reinforcing existing perceptions of superficiality. Early support may assist with this; while traditionally doctoral programs have often been hostile to interdisciplinary research (Golde and Gallagher 1999), some programs are encouraging new forms of doctoral training (Sung et al. 2003; Murphy and Jacobs 2014) that emphasize interdisciplinarity and even collaborative production.

[4.14] In order to develop fan studies as a discipline that is inclusive of interdisciplinary research paradigms, and avoid the tensions that design research has faced, measures must be taken to overcome these structural challenges. This will not be easy, and requires concerted effort at all institutional levels. Practical solutions for facilitation can include providing opportunities for physical colocation, including shared spaces and opportunities for serendipitous meeting, or encouraging problem-based exploration. Adequate support structures must be put in place to reassure researchers that such endeavors will be appropriately rewarded. These types of solutions require institutional change and support at the highest levels of management.

5. Developing fan studies as an interdisciplinary discipline

[5.1] Having identified potential barriers and solutions, I will now return to Archer's questions, asked of design research at an early stage of its development. Answering these questions for fan studies is not within the scope of this article, nor should the questions be considered as having definitive answers rather than being a tool in the process of discovery. However, by asking these questions of fan studies, we can begin to understand where we currently sit as a field or discipline, and what might still be required in order to gain cohesive methodological and disciplinary structure, if indeed this is something to be regarded as a goal.

[5.2] The first question asks whether fan studies can be a discipline in its own right, and if so, what are the distinguishing features, or the features of any discipline. As noted, fan studies does not sit neatly within any existing discipline. As a field, it encompasses knowledge bases from a wide variety of origins to examine a particular set of behaviors and phenomena that constitute being a fan. What constitutes a discipline, as distinct from a field? Archer suggests that formalization as a discipline requires distinguishing features. Bitzer and Wilkinson (2009) discuss six criteria based on Dressel and Mayhew (1974), the first two of which appear to be met by fan studies in its current state: an existing specialized vocabulary and generally accepted basic literature, as described above, and a logical taxonomy of knowledge so that knowledge gaps can be identified. This latter is demonstrated by journal special issues focusing on distinct themes of fan studies research. Other criteria listed, such as the development of a generally agreed set of methodologies, and a defined space in relation to other disciplines, form a significant part of current theoretical discussion in the field. The fifth criterion suggests that in a mature discipline, considerable energy is devoted to solving basic or theoretical questions as well as theory building. This criterion may be still to some extent unmet, as is that of there being recognized sequences of experiences for the training of researchers. These will develop as dedicated fan studies education becomes more common. Based on this, it seems fair to consider fan studies a nascent discipline that, while not fully formed, is proceeding toward its own distinct identity.

[5.3] We must also recognize that discussion of disciplinary boundaries encompasses not just what can exist within a discipline, but what might stay outside it. Design is now generally considered as a true discipline, with formal academic structuralization and design departments at many universities. It has spread and expanded into a wide-ranging field with many subspecializations and subdisciplines: sustainable design, inclusive design, design innovation management, and human–computer interaction, among many others. However, questions of definition and methodological structure remain, and the process of disciplinary cohesion has not been untroubled. Bremner and Rodgers (2013) speak of design going through a "crisis of identity" in terms of disciplinary development at several points through its history. They question Donald Norman's claim that "we are all designers" (Norman 2004), expressing concern over this broad application and whether the idea that "everything is design" is leading to a devaluing of the term. This is of particular note in relation to current debates in fan studies around the similar question of whether "everyone is a fan," and the mainstreaming of fan cultures.

[5.4] Archer then asks, what are key questions that the discipline should address in research and teaching? Current fan studies scholarship is wide-ranging, and inclusive of multiple interlinking topics, such as the nature of what it means to be a fan; what pressures, internal and external, positive and negative, act upon fans; examining the objects of fandom, spaces of fandom, and how fandom is generated; and fan practice. As with design, the questions being asked by fan studies researchers are complex and may lead to a multitude of responses rather than fixed conclusions. As design asks "what is a designer?" we ask "what is a fan?"; and while these questions deserve to be asked, they should not distract from the validity of the practice, nor of the validity of the discipline.

[5.5] What methodology does fan studies use? If we are attempting to find a single all-encompassing definition of what fan studies methodologies look like, this could be considered a challenge, and counter to the methodological fluidity that is a strength of related fields such as cultural studies (Evans and Stasi 2014). An opportunity that comes with the construction of a new disciplinary space is that it does not need to replicate the structures and restrictions of disciplines that preceded it. Embracing a methodological bricolage allows us to utilize all the best parts of what other disciplines have to offer, and add in unique processes and approaches that are being developed in this particular field.

[5.6] As Turk refers to the tools of other disciplines, this approach can be considered through the metaphor of constructing a toolbox. The craftsperson with their toolbox is not limited to using one tool for every circumstance, but rather has available a range of tools that they are familiar with, with which they can tackle the variety of tasks encountered. Sometimes multiple tools might be used at once to address a particularly intractable problem. Some tools are multifunctional, ubiquitous; for example, a hammer can be used for a multiplicity of tasks. However, we should not limit ourselves to using a hammer for tasks for which a more specialist tool might be better suited, or discard a tool because we cannot immediately see its purpose. By opening ourselves to the inclusion of more diverse tools, new possibilities can be presented and new routes to solving a problem may be seen. Some more unusual tasks may not have an existing tool that properly addresses them, and in that case we should consider developing singular tools, unique for this circumstance, to be carried only by the specialist, as design has developed specific tools such as design fiction. It is possible that some new fan studies methodologies are already in the process of emerging, but have not yet been formalized and codified. Rather than forge a single methodological tool for fan studies, we should instead create a methodological toolbox that can be used by our discipline. At the center of this proposition is the multidisciplinary space in which fan studies is, as we have described, already positioned.

[5.7] Archer's final question invites us to consider, as a field, what results and applications we are trying to achieve. This, above all, is an open question that needs further consideration both as individuals and as a discipline, and may have bearing on the topics of research that are considered critical, and which methodologies we choose to use. In the final section of this paper, one possible approach is described, with examples of how both borrowed and novel methodologies might benefit fan studies.

6. Toward new fan studies methodologies

[6.1] In developing our toolbox through a bricolage approach, we should be open to drawing on methodological approaches from other disciplines that to date have had limited employment in this field. An example of a potentially useful methodology of this type is participatory action research (PAR). This methodological approach, which originated in the social sciences, is being increasingly used by design researchers (e.g., Bilandzic and Venable 2011; Broadley and Smith 2018) and has features of relevance to fan studies.

[6.2] Action research first came into common usage in the 1940s. The term, introduced by Kurt Lewin (1946), describes a way of generating knowledge of a social system that also attempts to change it. Lewin was interested in reintroducing an experimental model to social science fieldwork; that theory could suggest interventions, and the results of those interventions would lead back into further theory (Gustavsen 2001). Action research rejects the traditional notion of value free research inquiry characterized by the objective, dispassionate researcher, and allows for the identification of problems and development of actions to both develop new forms of practical knowledge and to create change that has positive social value (Reason and Bradbury 2008). Action research has itself been compared to a bricolage, requiring the researcher to be flexible and willing to use a variety of methods to suit the circumstances (Hase 2014).

[6.3] PAR emerged from this background in the 1970s, as a convergence of work by many scholars worldwide who were concerned with inequality, oppression, and disempowerment, as well as critique of traditional social science approaches (Fals-Borda 2006). PAR is concerned with attempting to rebalance power dynamics through research that concerns traditionally marginalized and underprivileged groups. A key aspect is that research questions must be developed and defined in conjunction with those for whom the questions are significant; and those who are impacted by the research and its outcomes must be involved continually through the research process. This means participating fully as co-researchers, and having influence on all phases of the inquiry, including dissemination and diffusion of knowledge produced (Elden and Chisolm 1993).

[6.4] Participatory research assumes that knowledge generated by ordinary members of the research context has value and validity, and does not privilege the position of the researcher. Fals-Borda (1995) described four key guidelines for research within PAR:

[6.6] This methodology has several features that might make it of particular interest to fan studies scholars. Dissemination of results and findings outside of the academy and back to fan communities is increasingly seen as responsible research practice. Since the early development of the field, there has been examination of how power dynamics are a factor in how fans relate to their object of fandom and are perceived by others. Thus, counter narratives are an important feature. Much current fan studies research is concerned with how marginalization and oppression function within and around fandom, and interactions of factors such as gender, race, sexuality, and age. In addition, identification of problems requiring solutions is not outside the scope of fan studies; for example, questions surrounding toxic fandom and wider political implications suggest that action might be desirable. Fan activism is a well-studied area, where fans themselves are undertaking action to implement positive social change. Despite this, we must also be cautious when importing methodologies to be aware of their limitations as well as opportunities offered. Genuine PAR can take considerable time and effort in order to effect change and learning, and may be context-specific, with findings that are not necessarily generalizable or transferable (Kemmis and McTaggart 2000).

[6.7] Bringing a PAR approach to fan studies would also provide a new lens to examine what have often been difficult questions surrounding ethics and consent in studying fan works and fan communities. Undertaking research in conjunction with the fans in question, giving status and participatory control as co-researchers, might resolve some of these issues, and strengthen research findings. Opening research to be inclusive of the "fan-scholar" (Hills 2012), who may be undertaking rigorous work outside of the boundaries of academia, seems a positive undertaking.

[6.8] Another aspect of PAR that may be of particular value to fan studies scholars is as a route to begin resolving still-present anxieties around questions of subjectivity that can arise where there is less distance between the researcher and the researched; that is, the question of how fan studies researchers approach research in fandoms with which they may themselves be closely associated. It is common for fan studies researchers to themselves be fans of something, and to count themselves as past or present members of the fan community on which their scholarship is focused. It is therefore not uncommon for researchers to be active participants in the cultures being studied; the so-called acafan or scholar-fan. A PAR perspective puts on equal footing the expertise of researcher and participant, and is not incompatible with these being within the same person. Like design, there is a close relationship between being a practitioner (in this case participating in fan practice) and being a researcher developing new knowledge and modes of practice.

[6.9] This positionality of a fan studies researcher who is themselves a fan is a longstanding debate. In 2002, Henry Jenkins (the originator of the acafan term) suggested that it might be no longer problematic for people who are fans and academics to combine these identities (Hills and Jenkins 2002). However, when describing this and the "obligation of defensiveness" that might henceforth be unnecessary, he appears to be speaking primarily regarding the defense of fan communities as worthy of study. The methodological question of research subjectivity and legitimacy when one is both a fan and a scholar is distinct (Hills 2012, Cristofari and Guitton 2017), and continues. For example, discussion on this topic emerged in a question session following a panel I contributed to at the 2018 Fan Studies Conference. Later the same year, at the 2018 Fan Studies North America Conference, Lori Morimoto spoke about how acafans occupy a space distinct from their fellow fans and nonfan academics, relating it to the experience of "third-culture" subjectivity and liminality (2018).

[6.10] While many researchers have understandably focused their attention on fandoms in which they have a vested interest, often using self-reflective techniques such as participant-observer involvement or autoethnographic examination, there still appears to be some anxiety over whether it is necessary for objective researchers to separate themselves from the affective investment naturally present if one is a fan. There is often an urge to declare our own fannish tendencies and affect, as if they constitute a conflict of interest rather than a contributing factor to the research focus and ability to conduct in-depth research—a source of expertise. Schimmel, Harrington, and Bielby (2007) note in comparing sports fan researchers to media fan researchers that this tendency to position themselves as fans is considerably less common in the former, despite them more often being self-declared fans when asked. Evans and Stasi (2014) highlight the historical tension in ethnographic work between academic objectivity perceived as a component of rigor, and the concern of exploitation and misrepresentation that has caused mistrust of academic studies that might objectify the fan, while Cristofari and Guitton (2017) highlight the practical and ethical considerations of studying fan communities as an acafan.

[6.11] A potential avenue for creation of a new methodology specific to fan studies might be to explore the development of a methodological approach formalizing the acafan position and incorporating the fan practitioner as a mode of scholarship. In this context, our personal fan affiliations can be considered as a starting point and crucial factor, rather than something that must be excused or explained. A novel methodology in this area may even incorporate aspects of PAR methods, allowing us to actively use our political stances as researchers to work with communities and seek positive change. Elden and Chisolm (1993, 128) note that "insiders as significant partners in a research team can enhance scientific validity." What are acafans if not insiders?

7. Conclusions

[7.1] Like design research, fan studies can be considered as a liminal disciplinary space, between and among other disciplines but also transcending them to create something new. The recommendations of this paper are that fan studies researchers approach their work with an awareness of the breadth of methodological approaches available, and a willingness to look across to work originating in what could be traditionally considered a different discipline, to capitalize on the available fan studies knowledge base. We can in this way borrow and combine the best bits of methodological approaches from various disciplines, and also create unique approaches that specifically respond to the opportunities and challenges of the field. Speaking of why interdisciplinary bricolage can be valuable, Kincheloe (2001) suggests that "researchers employing multiple research methods are often not chained to the same assumptions as individuals operating within a particular discipline." We have the opportunity, at this stage in the development of our discipline, to be flexible and proactive in shaping work that meets the needs of the context rather than being restrained by what has come before. However, this requires similar flexibility from the structures of academic scholarship and also from individuals—skills that must be accepted and developed in early career researchers, including as part of graduate study and doctoral programs. Overcoming structural barriers to building an interdisciplinary discipline will not be easy or straightforward, and requires fundamental changes to academic systems. Identifying these issues is a key first step to finding solutions.

[7.2] Being open to a diversity of knowledge sources also includes the acceptance of new forms of knowledge creation; as design includes practitioner-scholars, we must be open to the scholar-fan. Kincheloe talks of the importance of intermediaries, able to "build bridges between various territories" (Kincheloe 2001, 690). This applies not just to academics from different disciplinary backgrounds but also of the relationship between fans and academics, and those who may span both worlds. Participatory action research is highlighted as a methodology that foregrounds the value of knowledge coming from the communities we study, and the importance of ensuring that dissemination of knowledge created includes it going back into those communities. We do not have to reject our values and stand as objective researchers, but can work together to develop positive social outcomes.

[7.3] The methodological suggestions of this paper are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive, but simply representative of the kinds of innovation that can be possible. Embracing the interdisciplinary nature of fan studies and the bricolage approach allows us to fully utilize the varied expertise that we have access to, creating a meeting place for scholars from multiple arenas, including those beyond the academy.

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