Applying Brenda Dervin's sense-making methodology to fan studies

CarrieLynn D. Reinhard

Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Communication scholar Brenda Dervin created sense-making methodology (SMM), an approach for conducting interviews that draws on metatheoretical concepts such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and the humanistic approach to psychology. Since its formulation, SMM has been utilized across different disciplines through the development of interview protocols for both one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Among these studies are those that focus on people's engagement with media products or with each other in relation to media products. These SMM audience and reception studies demonstrate that the methodology can be useful for studying fans by bringing a more systematic, and thus quantifiable, approach to a phenomenological, interpretive study of fan behavior, be it mental, emotional, physical, or social. SMM would allow for studies that analyze how fans make sense of a situation involving their fandom and fan identity. After explaining what SMM is and how it has been used to study fans, a case study demonstrates how SMM may suggest a way to define being a fan and applying the concept of fandom beyond the traditional domains of sports, media, and popular culture.

[0.2] Keywords—Attitudes; Definitions; Identity; Lifespan; Nontraditional fandoms

Reinhard, CarrieLynn D. 2020. "Applying Brenda Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology to Fan Studies." 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] Fan studies research has done a tremendous job of legitimizing the importance of fandom in people's lives (Reinhard 2018). Fans now find themselves less castigated as fanatics and sociocultural outsiders, as their actions have become better understood. At the same time, rather than completely celebrating the fan, research also considers the darker sides of fandom, from toxic fandom to fan exploitation. As a discipline, fan studies has developed different theories and utilized various theories to better understand fandom's role in a person's life and the fan's role in societies and cultures.

[1.2] Furthermore, fan studies scholars now discuss how to apply these concepts and approaches to other areas of life, such as politics. Abigail De Kosnik addressed this application in her keynote address at the first Fan Studies Network North America conference in October of 2018. Her call for viewing political partisanship as akin to fan wars aligns with my own call for applying fractured fandom concepts to the study of political and religious ideological differences (Reinhard 2018), as well as Ashley Hinck's (2019) work on the use of fandoms to inspire civic engagement. Such research could help further demonstrate how normal it is to be a fan, through revealing how this identity reflects just another aspect of living and making sense of the world and oneself.

[1.3] Thus, as with any robust field of study, more remains to be investigated. In this article, I focus on the need to understand one person's experience within multiple fandoms, following what Matt Hills (2005) termed "cyclical fandom" to explain how fans move between different objects of affection (803). People are rarely fans of only one thing. A person's fandoms ebb and wane as they age, move, and develop different needs and wants. Even within one year, a person's fandoms are multiple, as they live and move through different parts of the world, both physical and abstract. Rarely does one thing satisfy a person's needs and wants in life, nor should it, lest the person restrict themselves and their experiences unnecessarily. Before understanding fans' experiences with these different aspects of fandom, however, the concept of fandom needs clarification.

[1.4] At the time of writing, fan studies and the general public appear to use at least three definitions of fandom. First, some apply the label to the focus of the individual fan's or fan community's interest, such as media franchises, popular cultural texts, or sports teams: "Star Wars is my number one fandom," meaning it exists as an object I can rank in relation to others. Second, some apply the label to describe the fan community that arises around that focus or object of affection: "Some in the fandom hate The Last Jedi." Third, some apply the label to describe a state of mind towards that object of affection: "My fandom is all Star Wars," meaning that I have a particular way of thinking, feeling, and acting that involves this object. Now, the first and last sentences overlap, intentionally. My definition of fandom combines these two, as I see fandom as an attitude toward some object of affection.

[1.5] At any fandom's center lies the object of affection, whether physical (e.g., media product, locale, sport) or abstract (e.g., ideology, activity, theory). A person adopts an affective stance to that object, from highly positive (e.g., fan) to highly negative (e.g., antifan). This affective stance relates to some cognitive need or gratification for engagement, from situational and personal to general and communal. Based on the affective stance and cognitive need, fans engages in behavioral activities that express the fandom; such behavioral activities begin with the repetitive (e.g., repeatedly returning) and expand into the discursive (e.g., fan discourse), the cumulative (e.g., fan collections), and the productive (e.g., fan food blogs) and/or transformative (e.g., cosplay, fan art, fan fiction). Overall, this definition views a fandom as an attitudinal state (Reinhard 2018) because it represents something that defines fans' perspectives and actions in fandom-related situations, such as those that occur within fan communities or in fans' interpretations of fannish texts.

[1.6] Fan studies research tends to focus on the fan community and fans' social behaviors. Per Amber Davisson and Paul Booth's (2007) observation, such research relies largely on ethnographies of group behavior or textual readings of fan productions. Research done on individual behaviors tends to focus on the discursive, cumulative, productive, and transformative aspects of fandom, and usually within a specific fandom. Less is known about how fans make sense of themselves as fans over time and across different fandoms; research into this would provide a more holistic appreciation of the role fandom plays during fans' lives, which could illuminate how and why fans repeatedly return to the same object of affection across different situations. In arguing for the need to study fan worlds, Matt Hills (2017) observes that fan studies must do more both to study people in their real-world experiences with fandom and to understand how, as Lori Hitchcock Morimoto and Bertha Chin state, "fandom is always performed against a backdrop of real-world events, constraints, and subjectivities" (quoted in Hills 2017).

[1.7] Understanding fan worlds requires a methodology that combines fans' phenomenological perspectives of fandom with their perspectives on real-world events and constraints. Communication scholar Brenda Dervin created sense-making methodology (SMM) as an approach to conducting interviews that draws on metatheoretical concepts such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and humanistic psychology. Since its formulation, SMM has been utilized across different disciplines—from library studies to reception studies—through the development of interview protocols for both one-on-one interviews and focus groups.

[1.8] SMM audience and reception studies demonstrate SMM's utility to fan studies; it brings a more systematic, and thus quantifiable, approach to a phenomenological, interpretive study of fan behavior, whether mental, emotional, or social factors are considered. SMM allows for studies that analyze how fans make sense of situations involving their fandom. Studying situations from fans' perspectives reveals how their agency influenced those situations, as well as the extent to which external factors shaped the situations and the fans. Additionally, because SMM requires researchers to bracket themselves from interviews and provide the space and time for participants to reflect on their own experiences, SMM encourages fans to become theorists of their own fandoms. Using SMM could provide insights into how fans see themselves, their objects of affection, their attitudes, their actions, their fan communities, and the situations that activate and impact their fandom-related identities.

[1.9] While I view fans as theorists of their own fandoms, other fan scholars have called to understand fans as empowered agents, both in their fandom experiences and during fan studies research (Evans and Stasi 2014; Monaco 2010). In 2005, Cornel Sandvoss drew on Wolfgang Iser, among other scholars, to suggest the need to reconsider how fans read the text at the center of their fandom and how they negotiate the boundaries of their fandom. Similarly, Davisson and Booth (2007) argued the field needs to better understand fans' activities by researching fans' interactions with texts; to support their argument, they developed a mixed methods approach to studying this textual interaction and related identities. In making an argument for studying how fans use fandoms for personal identity expression, Hills (2005) presented a case study demonstrating a methodological approach that offered him and his interviewee a feeling of "working together to make sense of media-related routines" (814). Davisson, Booth, and Hills presented possible methodologies for addressing Sandvoss's theoretical focus while also positioning the interviewee as a coresearcher. What I argue in this paper is that SMM protocols allow for the study of individual fans' fandom-related identities from a coresearcher perspective.

[1.10] Having fans theorize themselves through SMM interview protocols could help researchers better understand what it means to be a fan and the factors that influence fans' actions and reactions in situations involving their fandom. Such insights could illustrate how fans interact with other fans, with antifans, and with nonfans; with capitalist and oppositional organizations and forces; with sociocultural and political discourses and institutions; and with the other areas of their lives. I here describe SMM and how it has been used to study fans through a case study. The case study demonstrates the insights possible from SMM's application by suggesting a way to define being a fan and applying the concept of fandom beyond the traditional domains of sports, media, and popular culture.

2. Presenting SMM

[2.1] SMM views humans as sense-making beings who continually attempt to understand the world and what, why, and how things happen (Dervin 2008; Dervin and Foreman-Wernet 2003; Reinhard 2018; Reinhard and Dervin 2013b). They use these sense-makings to make decisions and move through situations. Humans possess the agency to struggle with and make sense of the various stimuli and information saturating the world in which they live. Their sense-makings may be cued or constrained by demographic, psychological, or even sociocultural traits—such as people acting according to gendered scripts of behavior—or the sense-makings may result from unpredictable aspects of the situation that prompt them to actively engage in order to determine the best course of action. Perhaps some problem—a struggle, confusion, or question—exists that they have never faced before; or perhaps they just do what they have done before. Regardless of the situation's novelty or familiarity, SMM seeks to understand both how individuals make sense of the situation and the behaviors that result from their sense-makings.

[2.2] To understand people's sense-makings, SMM relies on a metaphor. Founded in the work of Richard Carter (2003), SMM uses the idea of discontinuity or gap as a universal of the human condition (Dervin 1975; Reinhard and Dervin 2013b). The sense-making triangle underlines and explains SMM's methodological metaphor (Dervin 2008; Dervin and Foreman-Wernet 2003). At the bottom of this triangle, SMM places the gap, which suggests that people experience lengths of time in which they find themselves struggling with questions, confusions, concerns—issues that give them anything from a brief pause for reflection to a lengthy period of consternation as they determine what to do. The gap metaphor suggests that when people face a problem, they take actions to make sense of the problem and address it—even if they undertake actions that seemingly worked in the past.

[2.3] The rest of the metaphor focuses on understanding how a person attempts to bridge the gap and move through the situation (Dervin 2008; Dervin and Foreman-Wernet 2003). SMM asks people to consider their actions and how they viewed these actions as they worked through their situations. People's bridging can involve anything that helps them make sense of the situation and their response to it. Per this conceptualization, every moment in life remains distinct from any other moment. People move through life facing new moments, and they must make sense of the moment and of themselves in the moment. SMM interviewers must provide interviewees with the time and space to reflect on the moment and their sense-makings in that moment; with SMM, the interviewee becomes coresearchers, conducting their own theorizing about their experiences with the moment (Reinhard and Dervin 2013b).

[2.4] With this metaphorical foundation, SMM informs different interviewing protocols meant to foreground interviewees perspectives on their experiences. Because SMM views people as theorists of their own lives, SMM interviewers structure protocols to empower people to speak as much or as little as they like (Dervin 2008; Dervin and Foreman-Wernet 2003). To assist people in theorizing about their own lives, SMM interviewers bracket their own power by keeping questions short and repetitive to remove any bias or influence an interviewer may bring into the interview (Dervin 2008; Dervin and Foreman-Wernet 2003). The interviewer must create a neutral space in which the interviewee engages their own interpretive activities as they work through just how and why they did what they did. This interpretive activity involves an attempt to interrogate and surround the phenomenon under study, prompted by the researcher's questions. The researcher's focus is on listening, and power is given to interviewees to draw their own connections between the various elements of the situation (Reinhard and Dervin 2013b).

3. Applying SMM to fan studies

[3.1] SMM's focus on the individual's sense-making includes understanding how the individual uses any sources of information to move through the situation under consideration. Because sources of information can help or hinder how a person works through the situation, SMM has been used in various reception studies to understand how people make sense of and use the media products in their lives (see Dworkin, Foreman-Wernet, and Dervin 1999; Reinhard 2008; Reinhard and Dervin 2012, 2013a; Shields 1999). SMM, then, allows for a different way to conceptualize the relationship between audiences, media products, and media use that goes beyond the theorizations common in media effects, uses, and gratifications approaches by focusing on more complex interactivities between media and person (Reinhard and Dervin 2013b)—similar to the work done by Davisson and Booth (2007).

[3.2] Indeed, fan studies already transcends these traditional media studies approaches. Common methods to study fans include ethnographies, autoethnographies, questionnaires, interviews, and textual readings. No one way is better than another, and all working together provide a complicated understanding of being a fan. Close readings give access to fan productions to understand the meaning-making, performative aspects. Ethnographies provide insights into how fans interact with others, both online and off-line, while autoethnographies conflate the researcher with the subject to reduce othering. Interviews allow fans to express themselves, in their own words, and provide in-depth information about how they interpret their fandom and their actions. Questionnaires allow more fans to share their insights and can demonstrate patterns in a fandom or fan communities.

[3.3] Less covered by these methods are fans' phenomenological responses to specific fandom-related situations. Rarely do these approaches compare fandoms based on actual lived experiences. I utilize SMM to address these gaps and the concerns of a "crisis of representation" that can lead to othering fans (Evans and Stasi 2014, 13). SMM brings situationality to media reception studies and attends to how fans respond interpretively, affectively, and materially to the situation being studied (Reinhard & Dervin 2013b). Rather than assume the situation impacts people, SMM requires researchers to focus on individuals' perspectives on the situation and how they see it impacting their thoughts, feelings, and actions. To understand how a fan makes sense of being a fan, meaning making should be studied from the perspective of specific situations the fan experienced.

[3.4] I have utilized SMM several times to study fans. My dissertation (Reinhard 2008) sought to understand how people make sense of gender stereotypes in relation to their media use. For this study, I interviewed people about media they repeatedly returned to, the basic requirement for establishing a fandom. Using SMM provided these participants the ability to reflect on their own experiences with gender norms and perceptions of appropriateness in relation to these potential fandoms. While the interview did not explicitly ask about fandom, this behavior of repeatedly returning suggests its possibility, even in situations where perceptions of gender-inappropriate behavior may have prevented some—particularly men—from comfortably expressing their fandom (Reinhard and Miller 2015).

[3.5] In a larger study (Reinhard 2018), I used SMM to structure self-interviews with fans, having them recall times when they experienced problems with other fans, nonfans, or even antifans. In an analysis of what I termed fractured fandom, SMM allowed me to probe how communication processes led to tensions, rifts, and worse with other individuals and/or within and between fan communities, as well as to determine if communication could provide the solution to such fractured experiences. Using this self-interviewing approach provided the fans with a safe space in which to express their emotional reactions to what happened when their fandoms broke down.

[3.6] These two studies utilized SMM in different ways to understand fandom. The work conducted for my dissertation examined how fans made sense of a specific media product, and thus their potential fandom. The work on fractured fandoms used SMM to gather stories of contentious communication and then analyze those situations. Thus, the first study focused on media reception from a fan's perspective, assuming that repeatedly returning to a media product constituted a basic level of fandom, while the second study focused on communication problems experienced by self-identified fans.

[3.7] The case study I present in this article looks at a fan not through my own assumptions or his self-identification but rather by focusing on the repeatedly returning activity as a defining feature of fandom and using that feature to explore his experiences with different fandoms. I sought to develop an interview to compare different types of fandom across an individual's life to show the common threads that connect these fandoms together. In a sense, I hoped to demonstrate that fandom can involve more than sports, media, or popular cultural objects, while also illustrating the importance of being a fan to people's perception of themselves. The following section presents how I used SMM to develop the interview.

4. Repeatedly returning case study

[4.1] In this case study, I used an SMM lifeline interview (Dervin 2008) to ask a college-aged, white, male, midwestern American resident to recall engagements with three different objects of affection: a media object, a locale, and an activity. The participant chose video games as the media object, a city park as the locale, and writing as the activity. For each engagement, I asked him at what age it started and how long it lasted. Following that, I asked him standard SMM questions to surround his experiences with each object of focus both when he first engaged with it and the last or most recent time he engaged with it. These standard questions were asked repeatedly, with changes to wording occurring only to reflect the situation being discussed, to focus the interview on the participant's agency to self-theorize, and to work through how he made sense of his life, both at the time of the situation and in reflection on it.

[4.2] To present the results of this interview, I relied on grounded text analysis: I read through the transcript of the interview several times to locate themes in how the participant made sense of these experiences. This comparative process revealed overlapping themes in how he saw himself, his life, and what matters to him. Overall, five themes emerged, reflecting both positive and negative reflections on his fandoms: identity creation, self-blame, inspiration, escape, and return to innocence. These themes align with findings from previous fan studies research regarding how fans make sense of their fandom, even when the fandoms presented here extend beyond the traditional areas of life studied.

5. Identity creation

[5.1] All three objects of affection inspired the participant to reflect on their relation to his development of his sense of self. He recalled the importance of video games, his media object of affection, since his childhood, describing them as a "road mark for my life" while reflecting on how playing them "turned me into a loner." While this reflection suggests a negative relationship with the object of affection, he also discussed how this experience related to a positive self-perception: "I particularly pride myself on that I am able to [be self-reliant] because not everybody is."

[5.2] He also recalled his experiences of repeatedly returning to a specific city park, his chosen locale of affection, as a child. He called the park "what [I] remember earliest, and a lot of things happened back then, and it was just something you could go back to." Like the video games, he said going to this park "sort of sparked who I am now, kind of started me down that trail." He also had a negative and positive appraisal of this fandom. He thought favorably on his experiences in the park and how they took him outdoors, away from his video games, as "up until then I was pretty much a shut-in." Yet, at the same time, the way he ended this fandom—when his family moved away, forcing him to leave it—indicates a negative period in his life.

[5.3] His experiences with writing, his chosen activity of affection, involved attempts to find himself through finding his voice. He said that writing allows for "my own expression, my own ideas" to come through: "It's that whole idea, you know, is that you are creating something and that's pretty much the bottom line of it." Unlike the other two engagements, this one did not involve the theme as seen from positive and negative perspectives. Writing was only seen as leading to a positive, helping him discover and develop his sense of self. This lack of a negative perspective on identity creation may also explain why writing did not feature the same self-blame themes, explored below, as the other two fandoms.

[5.4] Identity creation is a common theme across any type of fandom, as media and popular culture provides the objects around which identities and communities form (Williams 2008). Henry Jenkins (1992) explains that such communities form to reflect the dissolution of traditional social communities, built around common interests and identities. Finding a fandom relates to recognizing and exploring one's own interests, which then leads people to find others with similar interests and thus learn more about themselves in the process (Jenkins 2006). In a sense, because of the importance of group membership, fan identities operate like other social identities; from a communication perspective, then, this means that we must consider how a person expresses their fandom in different situations when they interact with others. Here the participant's fandoms demonstrated how he constructed his identity in relation to the object, other individuals, and larger social and cultural discourses. That construction, however, was not simply a positive process.

6. Self-blame

[6.1] As discussed, the participant's fandoms involved both positive and negative valences. This negative relationship also occurred when the participant critiqued himself. With the video games, he referred to himself as "kind of a loner" because he had few friends and lived in a "remote part of town." He explained that the video games served as a coping mechanism for this isolation. Being called "plenty of names" growing up led to his internalization of these critiques, and he blamed himself for his poor social standing. Although he later befriended other gamers, as he grew up, he "start[ed] to believe [the stereotypes]…because in every stereotype there's at least a salt of truth."

[6.2] As regards the city park, the participant felt that having to abandon the locale due to his family's move was somehow his fault: "Why me, what did I do wrong?" When his mother fell ill, he had to end this fandom, and just before their move, his mother "was really, really angry." Being young and not understanding what was happening, the participant tended "to equate those things together because back then it was I didn't know any better." In both fandoms, he blamed himself, either for repeatedly returning to it, as with the video games, or ending the engagement, as with the city park. His actions with the video games seemed to cause him pain, as he felt he resembled the gamer stereotype: a loner without friends who substitutes video games for companions. His inability to return to his favorite city park related to his feelings of powerlessness over his family's relocation.

[6.3] Thus, for both fandoms, the participant's engaging or disengaging with the fandom caused him pain, and he blamed himself for that pain because he saw those actions as under his control. Conversely, he considered writing as a way out of a negative period in his life: "I was depressed. I didn't have something to do in my life." Rather than blame himself for letting writing take control of his sense of self (as with the video games) or his emotions (as with the city park), writing seemed to function more to mitigate his self-blame, serving more as a source of inspiration.

[6.4] Feelings of shame and guilt appear commonly associated with fandom, especially if fans view themselves in a converse relationship to more mainstream social and cultural norms. Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen (2012) examined the feelings of shame associated with the Supernatural fandom and found those feelings related to how the fans perceived nonfans' opinions of them, which they felt aligned with stereotypes of fans in mainstream culture. Their fandom and fan community thus became a safe space. Shame can be particularly acute if fans perceive the mainstream to be rejecting their fandom (Brennan 2014). Fans who responded to my fractured fandom study reported similar types of shame when engaging with others; such internalized shame can lead to more bonding with other fans but also to problems when others question a fandom, creating defensiveness and communication breakdown (Reinhard 2018). In the study discussed here, the participant's sense of shame and guilt led him to blame himself, either for not making friends or not making the most of his life.

7. Inspiration

[7.1] Even with a negative relationship between the fandoms and his identity, the participant still saw the fandoms serving an inspirational role. For instance, he wanted to play video games to do extraordinary things and to form aspirations: "Every kid wants to be something great—an astronaut, a fireman, you know, a superhero, and I was no different…it's something you aspire for." He knew he most likely would not lead the extraordinary life he experienced when playing the video games, but dreaming of doing so was important: "Someone once said that when humans lose their ability to dream, they lose their ability to live. And I agree with that statement wholeheartedly." Playing video games provided a way to think through possible goals.

[7.2] The participant enjoyed going to the city park because it helped him make friends, something he found difficult as a child. When forced to move, he spoke to a friend who was "sad to see me go." Having this connection with another person inspired the participant to improve himself: "That idea that somebody really cares about you leaving is something that really helps, really helps drive you to do better things." His video game fandom provided him with life goals, and the relationships that emerged from his city park fandom helped him think that he had a life worth living.

[7.3] When it came to his writing, it seems the participant found a meaningful outlet. He recalled being "a basket case, pretty much, and then once I found out I wanted to do this now, it really gave me that kind of, it really gave me a drive of something I wanted to do." His love of writing helped him deal with the darkness in his life. His other fandoms functioned in similar ways: playing video games helped him cope with his loneliness, and the friends from the park helped him cope with losing that place of refuge.

[7.4] Fan studies research commonly shows how fandoms inspire fans to commune, create, critique, and collectively engage in activism. Fans communicate and interact with other fans through a variety of activities, from informing one another about their object of affection to reworking that object for their own and the fan community's pleasures (Baym 1998). Fans can work individually or collectively, such as in attempts to save their object of affection from cancellation (Scardaville 2005) or by engaging in philanthropy (Bennett 2014). This fan's inspiration was more personal, more focused on dealing with his own life, but that makes his fandoms no less helpful in the long run.

8. Escape

[8.1] All three fandoms helped the participant cope with something in his life. He turned to video games when "my family was going through a lot of problems…, and I guess that's where that whole idea started is that I just wanted to sit down and forget about it." Playing video games helped him escape the tensions affecting his family at that time. As a child, his powerlessness caused him to think that "sometimes ignorance is the best policy" because "when you cannot affect what's going on around you…the only thing that logically follows is to remove yourself from that situation until it blows over." Video games became a source of escape to make it easier to handle the problems plaguing his family.

[8.2] He also saw the park as "a safe place" that he could escape to after getting into trouble at school: "I got into it a lot with people because…I have a big mouth and I run it like a sailor. And back then it got me into a lot of trouble." The park became a place of refuge, as his mother would wait for him there, making it "a safe place because not only is this a place that I know but my authority figure is here to protect me." This park became a place of respite from the fights he instigated, and his ability to connect with others likely furthered his perception that he could relax and not worry while there.

[8.3] As with his other fandoms, the participant said writing allowed him to "get away," but this idea of escapism is not as negative as using video games to hide in ignorance or escaping to the park to hide from the pain he caused others. Instead, he saw the escapism offered by writing as leading to something better: "Along the lines of the wanting to get away, but in the same vein, it's more of wanting to express something." Writing allowed him to express his own personal truth and share his experiences with others, allowing them to view the world through his eyes. While writing is normally considered a solitary activity and thus a potential escape from reality, the participant hoped this fandom would improve reality, for himself and others. While he may have needed to escape for a time to compose texts, he ultimately hoped he could connect to others through this fandom.

[8.4] Escapism is often derided as a negative part of fandom, because people withdrawing from real life aligns with traditional conceptualization of fans as abnormal (Harris 1998; Jenson 1992). However, sometimes escapism is needed to provide a safe space and as a way to relieve stress. Scodari's (1998) analysis of fan communities found that fans preferred to silence discussions perceived as negative in order to retain their safe space. Escapism can also help fans cope with the demands of their lives (Kozinets 2001). Zubernis and Larsen (2012) argued that participating in fandom had therapeutic effects, as fans could express themselves without constraint in an accepting community. This participant experienced both of these forms of escapism.

9. Return to innocence

[9.1] Ultimately, each fandom's impact on the participant's life led to a sense of nostalgia, of wishing he could return to the time when he first engaged with each object of affection. While each fandom helped him grow and mature, he still expressed a desire to return to those initial feelings brought about by the object of affection.

[9.2] With video games, the participant lamented learning more about the commonalities of video games, as this knowledge changed how he experienced the games: "Something that used to be exciting has become routine." When asked about what he would change, he said he would "want to be a kid again. Well, to have that same kind of innocence for when I first started playing, because after you do something for so long, you don't feel the same way about it anymore." The initial thrill of playing a video game, of learning how to control and master it, dulled throughout his life. Although it may have helped inspire him to become a better person, that initial reaction to this object of affection could never be the same the more he repeatedly returned to it.

[9.3] The desire for that same thrill emerged in his discussion of his writing fandom. He stated that he wanted "to get the same kind of joy that I got from writing at first. It's not the same kind of thing that I get now." He wished to have both this joy and the professionalism he felt he had developed throughout the years. However, he recognized that "it's really something you can't have both ways" as he sought "to find a balance" between the inexperienced joy of learning to write and all that he had learned about developing his craft and voice. As regards video games, he wanted to relive the affective reaction that helped create his new fandom, but as regards writing, he hoped he could maintain a feeling of joy while being more serious about writing and what it could mean in his life.

[9.4] With the city park, however, his reminiscences were different, as he indicated a desire to return there free from the guilt of thinking he had to abandon it because he had done something wrong: "I would say that it would give me a place to go for a couple more years. I would have imagined that by that time I would be grown-up enough to understand why this is happening—that it's not my fault." Having the fandom end due to circumstances outside of his control have resulted in his possessing a different sort of nostalgia for the park than for writing or video games. He felt that perhaps, if he could return, he could regain something he felt had been stolen from him. Overall, then, his reminiscing dealt with reexperiencing the initial feelings of joy that helped form his fandoms. He wished to regain that feeling of joy and the accompanying feeling of control over his own life.

[9.5] Nostalgia connects back to escapism, as it allows fans to return to a time when they were more comfortable (Thomas 2009). Nostalgia can drive fan activities like collecting, which provides a tangible link to fans' initial affective responses to a fandom (Geraghty 2014). Nonetheless, while fans can reengage with an object of fandom to perhaps experience something new or something they initially missed (Thomas 2009), they can never experience the same affective responses that initially fueled their fandom. That feeling only exists in fans' memories. This participant's nostalgia existed as a desire to recapture an impossibility inherent to fandom, given the basic feature of repeatedly returning to the object of affection.

10. Summarizing the participant's fan experiences through an SMM lens

[10.1] The participant's three different fandoms involved tensions between identity creation and self-blame, escapism and inspiration, and a desire to return to a time perceived as better. Whether the fandom involved a media object, a location, or an activity, his passion and his interpretive and physical behaviors demonstrated the complexity of each fandom. His fandoms were filled with both positive and negative thoughts, feelings, and actions, all of which overlapped regardless of the type of fandom discussed. In a sense, then, his attitudes toward the objects of affection were relatively similar, even if the objects were not.

[10.2] Rather than framing his life as a collection of different fandoms, this interview illustrated how the participant's experiences with different fandoms related to his central concerns in complex, often overlapping ways. His fandoms expressed how he saw himself and helped him to see himself in new ways. This interview suggests that being a fan of anything highlights the struggles a fan faces throughout life. A fan does not express different identities through different fandoms but instead expresses the same life struggles across different arenas and even within the same fandom across time and space. The participant repeatedly returned to things that mattered to him affectively, cognitively, and socially, and those returnings also helped him see himself differently and to change over time.

[10.3] What emerged across these experiences, then, aligns with Hills's concept of cyclical fandom, as the analysis demonstrates "the emergence of patterns" through repeated engagement with different objects (2005, 804). The individual may not have been aware of these patterns when engaging with the fandom, but through reflection and theorization, he could see the patterns emerging in his actions and how they related to his sense of self. When asked about how he saw these different experiences relating to one another and himself, he said, "Everything I do comes together to create me. Not on a physical level but there are a lot of questions that I have to ask myself every day. And those questions are, that's what makes me…I can't find things about myself unless I ask these questions. And I guess it's not really complex to say, but when it boils right down to it…It's one of those things you just have to do." By providing the participant with the space, time, and discursive power to reflect on his life, he was able to illustrate patterns that helped him move from the specific situated events to larger philosophies that underscored his life.

11. Implications for applying SMM

[11.1] Across the studies that I have conducted, I have found one of SMM's main strengths to lie in the possibility it provides to compare different types of situations. Because SMM focuses on the interviewee's own theorizing of the situation, the comparison point can be either the interviewee or some defining characteristic of the situation. Using the interviewee as the comparison point allows one to study fandom across a person's life and to understand both how fandom changes over a person's life and how a person's life changes because of their fandom(s). This case study illustrates that application. Using SMM to study fans could illuminate how fandom changes over time, and how it impacts other areas of a person's life. Doing so would align with the call from Harrington, Bielby, and Bardo (2011) that we recognize how fandom changes as people mature.

[11.2] Additionally, using the person as the comparison point allows for studies that cross-sectionally consider different fandoms or different areas of life that are not traditionally conceptualized as fandom. This case study demonstrated that the same identity issues exist when engaging with a locale or an activity as do in more traditional fandoms, such as those related to media objects or sports. This comparative analysis could also be extended to other areas of life, such as food, religion, or politics. It may be that fandom involves repeatedly returning to what matters most in a person's life, and that, like attitudes, what matters most ties in with deeply held beliefs about the world (Reinhard 2018). If this is true, then a person's religious and/or political ideologies should align with any fandom they have. The self-theorizing aspect of SMM could help illuminate these connections.

[11.3] Finally, using some characteristic of the situation as the comparison point could allow for comparisons across people. A limitation of this case study is that it only considered one person, indicating the need to interview more people and compare their experiences with different types of fandoms. The fractured fandom study, however, demonstrated the ability to compare people and fandoms to find commonalities in how fans communicated with one another (Reinhard 2018). Furthermore, comparing across fandoms—especially by including nontraditional fandoms—could illustrate that fandom is a common aspect of life and of being human. What happens in a fan community resembles what happens in other communities; a fandom-related identity interacts and interrelates to the other social identities a person has. The comparative potential of an SMM study could help illuminate these commonalities.

[11.4] These different potentials for applying SMM suggests that more studies must be conducted using SMM to fully demonstrate what can be learned from the approach. The comparative potential suggests future directions for what to study and how to study it. As with all of fan studies, much can still be done—and should be done—to expand the boundaries of the field, and SMM presents one way to do so.

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