Placing fandom, studying fans: Modified acafandom in practice

Abby Waysdorf

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

[0.1] Abstract—For nearly three decades, the field of fan studies has helped to shift the conversation on fandom from a study of pathological individuals to exploring how groups make use of and transform the contemporary media landscape. Fandom itself is also changing. What was once a niche subculture is now a way for us to make sense of the mediated world around us. As the concept and structures of fandom expand, we as fandom researchers must broaden our methodology to analyze fans who aren't like us while also keeping the empathetic understanding of fandom that has made the field what it is. One attempt at this project is the modified acafandom approach developed as part of the Locating Imagination project. In researching film tourism, something I had little interest in personally participating in, I needed to go beyond the traditional autoethnographic acafan approach and develop my skills as a social sciences researcher. However, it was important to me to foreground the perspective of fan studies as a field throughout the project. The result shows how the modified acafandom approach can be useful in both qualitative media research and fan studies. The research modalities of the social sciences can usefully broaden the field of fandom research.

[0.2] Keywords—Interviewing; Methodology; Online ethnography; Participant observation; Research design

Waysdorf, Abby. 2020. "Placing Fandom, Studying Fans: Modified Acafandom in Practice." 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] How do we study fandom? As the articles in this special issue suggest, this is not an easy question to answer. Fandom, after all, is in itself complex—simply defining what it is and, subsequently, who fans are is something that has raised as many divisions as explanations. It is intensely personal and built around communities, remarkably productive and focused on consumption, part of a progressive, global identity and a significant contributor to contemporary right-wing movements. The contradictions around what fandom is and how people experience it mean that it is a difficult subject to study but also show how crucial it is to do so. Fandom is not only a niche subculture but a way of relating to a wide range of aspects of mediatized society (Dean 2017), and to understand contemporary social practice, we need to address it.

[1.2] For the researcher, this also raises problems that are often complicated by our own history. Fandom is an increasingly prevalent part of daily life, the life of the academic included. Many scholars come to fandom research having already spent at least some of their lives as fans, and indeed, the traditions of fandom research encourage making this not only known but also part of the research. In staking out the concept of acafandom (Jenkins 1992; Hills 2002, 2012; Hellekson and Busse 2006; Phillips 2010; Stein et al. 2011), of centering one's own fandom in researching fandom, the approach of fan studies has been to look at fandom from as emic a perspective as possible—one's own experience with being a fan.

[1.3] This has proven to be a fruitful approach to researching fandom but not without its limitations, as I discovered when I started my doctoral research. I was greatly inspired by the acafan approach but found it not completely adequate to the particular fan practice that I was studying, that of film tourism. As someone who didn't feel compelled to participate in it myself but was interested in the practice, I could not entirely rely on the acafandom approaches that I knew. I needed to draw on the methodology of the social sciences, specifically traditional techniques such as participatory observation and interviews, but I did not want to completely lose the mentality of acafandom and the insights it offered, as I felt it had produced the best understandings of fandom. As an early-career researcher, I set out to try to do this in my work.

[1.4] It is that process that I will detail in this article, an approach I took to calling (if just to myself) modified acafandom. To me, this meant using my own experience with fandom as a tool in investigating a different form of fandom—of keeping my own fandom and how I would like it seen in mind while doing my research and to use my empathy toward fandom as a starting point in collecting and analyzing my data. It is not so much a proscription for future researchers to follow as it is an exploration of how I went out to try to incorporate different methodologies into my fandom research and how I tried to incorporate fandom insights into the social science approaches I found. This did not come about overnight. It was ultimately an emergent process, drawing greatly on the grounded approach developed by Charmaz (2006) and adapting as the project evolved, starting with my own understanding of what fans do and moving outward. This flexibility in being able to follow the research was a somewhat lucky one but ultimately became an important way of thinking about developing a research project.

[1.5] I discuss it in three parts, beginning with a reflection on acafandom and why it was necessary to modify it in the first place, looking at how it was and wasn't useful in researching film tourism. Following this, I detail exactly how I went about conducing my research and give my insights into how I used my specific methodologies—netnography, participatory observation, and interviews. Finally, I reflect on the importance of taking an emergent and grounded approach to this research and how that flexibility shaped the existing result.

[1.6] My goal here is to show how the traditions of social science and acafandom can work together in exploring and studying fan practices and communities, in terms of where they might complement each other and how they both played an important role in my particular research project. I hope that this article can be of assistance for others who might want to take similar approaches in the future, as fan studies rises to meet the challenges of contemporary fandom.

2. Acafandom and the fan academic

[2.1] When I started my doctoral project on film tourism—visiting places associated with a movie or television show—I had some idea of what I wanted to do with it. I had a prior interest in fandom and fans, and film tourism seemed to fit into that category. What's more, focusing explicitly on the tourists as fans and how that might shape and impact the experience of film tourism was relatively lacking in film tourism research until that point (Karpovich 2010). Because of my existing knowledge of and interest in fan studies, I felt that this was something that needed to be taken into consideration when researching contemporary film tourism. On some level, I felt, those who make an effort to visit a filming location are fans. There was an affective level to the practice that needed to be addressed.

[2.2] While still an emerging researcher, I did have some experience and knowledge of fandom research. It had been something that had interested me since the beginning of my experience in academia, where I started out in media studies, soon discovering that fan studies was a field that existed and that I could actually built a career out of researching something that was so interesting to me. I was particularly inspired by the acafan or scholar-fan approach (Jenkins 1992; Hills 2002, 2012; Hellekson and Busse 2006; Philips 2010; Stein et al. 2011) (note 1), a stance favored in fan studies where the researcher foregrounds his or her own perspective as a fan in doing research, not only drawing on their history of fandom in discussing it but also being very clear that they are fans themselves.

[2.3] There are significant benefits to this approach. Acknowledging the researcher's own position as a fan destabilizes the traditional relationship between the researcher and the researched—rather than an elite outsider representing the strange customs of an Other, the community is explained by someone who is part of it. The researcher does not hold himself or herself above the group being studied but rather feels part of it and works to explain and analyze it in collaboration with other members. The insider knowledge gained from being part of this community contributes to a fuller picture of it, one that comes closer to the lived experience of its members. While not completely mitigating the "crisis of representation" that has gripped ethnography and the social sciences (Rosenau 1992; Gubrium and Holstein 2012a), it presents one response to it by foregrounding the subjectivity of the researcher, self-reflexively noting that it is their reality as a fan and community member that is discussed, and that they have inhabited this reality means that they can represent it accurately.

[2.4] In general, this approach has been of benefit to fan studies as a discipline (Ford 2014), built as it was around the desire to depathologize fandom. In showing fandom from closer to the fans' perspective, the more positive aspects of fandom—its creativity, its critical nature, its sociality—can be highlighted, showing what fandom offers and the way in which being a fan represents a critical as well as loving relationship with popular culture that draws it closer to high culture. This has largely changed the opinion on fans in media studies, recasting them from deluded, obsessive over-consumers to creative producers with an admirable way of engaging with popular culture in a media-rich environment. And in admitting to one's own fandom, scholars demonstrate that fans aren't just some other that needs to be objectively dissected and studied—they are part of us. As a fan, I found this inspiring.

[2.5] However, that does not mean there aren't drawbacks, one of which I realized at the early stages of my project. As Hills points out, the reliance of the field on the perspective of acafandom means that "areas of fan practice remain in the margins of academic work as long as there are not scholar-fans mediating these precise activities" (2012, 19–20). The fans drawn to research have largely come out of what was once known as media fandom, the organized fandom around (often, but not exclusively, science-fiction and fantasy) films and television shows. Fans are eager to showcase why their own fandoms are particularly interesting and to demonstrate the sort of fan activities that prove fandom is worth taking seriously. This has led to certain activities, like fan fiction, being continually covered while more ordinary fan activities are neglected (Hills 2010; Sandvoss and Kearns 2014), particularly if they don't fit into the idea of transformative fan practices, and to certain fandoms appearing a great deal in the literature while others appear not at all (Hills 2012). The dependence on the acafan model has led to a limiting of what fan studies covers and a canonizing of certain texts and practices, which is particularly worrisome as fandom becomes recognized as an important structuring factor across a much wider part of contemporary life. To share its relevance with the broader academic community, fan studies needs to expand.

[2.6] For myself, I found the traditional acafan model limiting because I was, personally, not all that interested in being a film tourist. The practice was intriguing precisely because I felt I did not understand it on a personal level. This meant that I could not draw on my own experience as I had done in previous work and as had been done in many of the works on fandom that I would base my theoretical models on. However, I do have a personal history with fandom and fan practice, having been involved in it, in some form or another, for most of my life. I have written and read fan fiction, been to conventions (although not many), and have been an enthusiastic fan of many texts throughout my life. It has shaped who I am as a person and a researcher. I wanted to keep that mentality as I did my research, as I felt that the recognizing of that position has demonstrated benefits in studying fandom.

[2.7] This became my first step into modified acafandom and somewhat of a guiding moral principle: to take my own fandom as a starting point in conducting my research while not making it the focal point. I thought of my own fandom both as a tool to communicate with, in terms of how I would approach the fans I would eventually research, and as a point of empathy in considering my data. This was not my fandom, but I wanted to think of it as akin to my own. To return to Hills (2012) and his somewhat provocative challenge to fan studies researchers, the goal with my approach was not to validate a particular position or practice (other than perhaps film tourism itself), as he warns that the canonization of types of fandom by acafans can do, but to attempt to investigate and understand the multiplicity of fan practices and groupings within the practice of film tourism. The easiest way for me to do this was to keep in mind my own fandom and how it impacts my life and might be seen by others.

[2.8] I could do this because I came to the project with little experience of this practice on my own and thus lacked a personal stance towards its moral economies (Hills 2012), a position I tried to maintain as I encountered clashes (such as between different groups of fans of The Prisoner (1967–68) in Portmeirion). This might not be possible or acceptable for all research on fandom, but it is a useful stance for a modified acafandom as it uses the understanding of one's own fandom as an empathic tool to investigate fandom that looks different. This is an important issue for fan studies in this day and age, as not all fandom looks like the kind we are familiar with (Dean 2017), but our insights as scholars (and fans) are needed in order to not regress to an academic concept of fandom centered around deviance and also to better explain fandom's nuances.

[2.9] For this project, my modified understanding of acafandom also meant that I needed to reconsider what I actually did in terms of data-gathering and analysis. I was trained in media and cultural studies, a humanities field with a focus on analyzing texts and applying this analysis to certain behaviors. However, that would not be entirely suitable for the questions I had about film tourism. As I would be primarily dealing with others rather than my own perspectives on the fandom and its practices or even on the works produced by fan-tourists, I needed to use different methodologies, as intimidating as it felt. I therefore utilized a combination of participatory observation, online content analysis, and, most importantly, interviews with fans in order to develop my argument. In trying to gain an understanding of film tourism, it was necessary to move away from the textual focus of fan studies as I knew it and consider my methodological choices in a more systematic way.

[2.10] In this, I joined an increasing number of fan scholars who have looked toward the social sciences for methodological guidance as the field matures (Evans and Stasi 2014; Ford 2014; Jensen 2016). Fan studies has largely had a textual focus, developing out of cultural studies and its strong tradition of textual analysis in order to discuss what fans do with popular culture and why it is significant (Jenkins 2014). This meant it did not have the stricter concerns about methodology that are found in the social sciences (Evans and Stasi 2014) and instead focused more on developing theoretical insights grounded in close reading of the texts produced by fans. The rise of the internet and the significant role it would play in expanding fan communication and practices greatly facilitated this approach by providing access to a large amount of textual material for fandom researchers to work with.

[2.11] Fans were among the first adopters of the internet, and as the internet's reach expanded, fan culture came along with it (Coppa 2006; Jenkins 2006). From creative works like fan fiction and fan film to the discussions between fans that increasingly took place in online writing, not to mention the works of popular culture that fandoms coalesced around, fandom researchers could therefore draw on a significant corpus of texts. This approach has been fruitful, developing concepts (such as transmedia storytelling or convergence culture) that have become key terms of media and cultural studies (Evans and Stasi 2014), and clearly demonstrating fans' role as an indicator species of the media ecology.

[2.12] However, as with the reliance on the acafan concept, the focus on textual output privileges certain kinds of fan over others (Hills 2010, 2012; Sandvoss and Kearns 2014; Jenkins 2014), with the ones that do participate in media through textual production becoming the standard-bearers of fandom in general. Fan studies needs to expand both in terms of methodology and the fans studied. This is not to say that textual analysis of fandom, even of media fandom, should be abandoned but that it can no longer be the only, or even the main, way in which fans are studied. We as a field must draw on the traditions developed in the social sciences in order to study others while still maintaining the insight and creativity that has made the field so vital and productive in a relatively short period of time.

[2.13] This is what I attempt to do here. In the next part of this paper, I will detail how this worked in practice, discussing my methodological and analytical choices throughout the process of my research. I also hope to show why I felt that keeping the acafandom stance was important as I made use of these methodologies.

3. Methodological choices in film tourism

[3.1] While not so much a traditional ethnography, because it is concerned with a particular question instead of a broader portrait of the community, I took an ethnographic approach to researching film tourism. This aligns well with the aims and mindset of a modified acafandom. My goal was to represent my respondent's perspectives on their practices, using the lens of fandom. To do this, I used three main methods—netnography, participatory observation, and especially interviews—which I will now go into in more detail in order to show how this can work in practice.

4. Netnography

[4.1] My research process began with the internet. To me as a fandom researcher, this made the most sense as a starting point. Netnography (Kozinets 2010) and other forms of online content analysis are one of the backbones of fandom research, playing an important role from its earliest days (Jenkins 1992). The increased profile and accessibility of fan communities online provide a great deal of data for researchers on fandom to draw upon, and the studies of such communities and their practices are far too numerous to list here. Indeed, there is a sense that to study contemporary fandom is to study these online communities and their works—that is, after all, where fandom is thought to be primarily located today. When I began my project, I also assumed that much of my data would be found online.

[4.2] However, I soon found that there was often less actually written by film tourists than I expected, and as I went into my fieldwork and interviews, I found that it often appealed to so-called "momentary" (Hills 2010) or "ordinary" (Sandvoss and Kearns 2014) fans who while emotionally involved in their object of fandom did not find it necessary to communicate with other fans online about it. They were, simply, a different kind of fan.

[4.3] This is not to say that material gathered online played no role in my research. It was an integral initial stage, important both in identifying important places to go and in understanding the active concerns of the fandoms studied—what they considered, generally, to be important to the community, its tensions, and its relationships with locations. While not all fans would find the issues expressed in the online community relevant, it did provide me a starting point for developing my participatory observation and interviews. However, when it was present, as in my research on the Prisoner fan community, online data provided not only an important backgrounding for the interviews and participatory observation but also a confirmation of certain issues raised in them. By looking at what is posted in public fan communities, both now and in the past, and at the way that fans write about The Prisoner's main filming location Portmeirion on fan websites and magazines, I could confirm much of what my interviewees (many whom participate[d] in these communities) said about their relationship with Portmeirion and its importance to the fandom as a whole.

[4.4] However, what netnography in general showed me was that I needed to think about who fans were and what they did differently. Online communication and communities, while interesting and important, are not everything. The connection of what fans do with being online is a limiting perspective—it is ultimately only one form of fandom. In order to understand film tourism and its role in contemporary fandom, I needed to make use of the physical world as well.

5. Participant observation

[5.1] From my initial observations of the fan communities through online ethnography, I moved to participatory observation. The goal with this part of the research was to participate as a (new) fan, to bodily experience the site, its practices, and its group dynamics (Spradley 1980; DeWalt, DeWalt, and Wayland 1998). This was done either in public places, such as at Wizarding World of Harry Potter or the commercial Game of Thrones (2011–19) tours in Dubrovnik and Northern Ireland, or in fan settings such as the two fan conventions (TitanCon and PortmeiriCon) that I participated in. In the former, my goal was first to explore and get to know the site and how it was presented to tourists and then to observe other participants' actions in the place. I feel that these unobtrusive observations, at public places without expectations of privacy, did not require my disclosure as a researcher. For the fan conventions, where the expectation is that participants will be around fellow fans (and only fellow fans), I received permission from the organizers to attend as a researcher and announced myself as one to whomever I talked to. I felt this was ethically necessary because these gatherings are seen as functions for the private fan community rather than the general public, and in receiving permission to attend as a researcher and announcing my presence I respected the fans' right to control their own space—just as I would have wanted.

[5.2] In all cases, the fieldwork was done in short trips rather than the more long-term fieldwork common in anthropology. My fieldwork took the shape and structure, roughly, of the holidays that they were observing—a week or so in Belfast, Dubrovnik, and Portmeirion, return weekend trips for the conventions in Belfast and Portmeirion, and a three-day Universal Studios package in Orlando. While a longer process of embedding myself would be necessary for a deeper ethnography of these fan cultures, this time was considered suitable for understanding these places as holiday destinations. These are transitory places with transitory populations, and it was that transitory nature that generally interested me. I felt that my time spent on location was suitable for forming observations about how fans interacted with these locations and each other that, while comparatively superficial, provided a good grounding for the kinds of questions that I would ask in my interviews.

[5.3] More importantly, it gave me a sense of how these locations felt, in a physical sense, and the affordances that they engendered. I approached this part of the research as an active participant, one who "seeks to do what other people are doing" (Spradley 1980, 60). In the public locations, I wandered as a fan-tourist, buying souvenirs, walking the streets, drinking Butterbeer, and essentially people-watching with a purpose. At the fan conventions, I participated as an enthusiastic newcomer (albeit one that announced her presence as a researcher), eager to put on costumes, answer trivia questions, and at one point even participate in an archery contest. I also participated in social events at both conventions, such as dances and social drinks. (I also made sure I was up-to-date with the respective texts.) While it might not be the most scientific way to put it, I had fun with this part of the fieldwork, letting myself act as if I had gone without research in mind and enjoying the presence of fans and the way in which they celebrated their object of fandom through and in place. I found I could also use this enthusiasm in order to make the personal connections that are crucial to ethnographic practice (Dewalt, Dewalt, and Wayland 1998). By participating actively, I showed that I was someone who, on some level, got why they were there.

[5.4] In both kinds of places, I took fieldnotes in the moment (DeWalt, DeWalt, and Wayland 1998), handwriting in a small notebook or, eventually, on my phone, as it seemed far less obtrusive than writing in a notebook in such a close social setting would be. These observations contained not only descriptions of what I did where, what other people were doing, and other details but also my thoughts on what was happening and what I felt to be important issues to follow up with during the interviews. I reread them in the evening and when I returned, adding where necessary, and used them to prepare the interviews as well as consulting them when I went to write the eventual report.

[5.5] This approach allowed me to feel in some way what the experience is like for fans, while also demonstrating an ability to appreciate their style of fandom that made potential respondents willing to help in my research. I found that enthusiastic participation helped a great deal in putting people at ease, and the willingness to explore what I could do in these places helped to put myself into an empathetic mindset. It also, and perhaps most importantly considering the difficulty of finding online accounts of the practice, brought me in contact with the fan-tourists themselves.

6. Interviews

[6.1] While I utilized participatory observation and online content analysis, the primary method of this research was interviews. As Kvale and Brinkmann state, "the qualitative research interview attempts to understand the world from the subjects' points of view, to unfold the meaning of their experiences, to uncover their lived world prior to scientific explanations" (2009, 1). My research questions were about the meaning of the experience of film tourism, and to answer these questions, I needed to ask those for whom it has meaning. Participant observation can only take me so far (Atkinson and Coffey 2012), and the online content analysis, while useful, was, as I discussed above, limited. Therefore, focusing on interviews was determined to be the best tactic. The first step in this is to establish some kind of rapport with those being interviewed—to ensure that I would treat them, their stories, and their lives with respect (Hermanowicz 2002). In dealing with fans, this is particularly important. Fans are still frequently seen as deviant and weird and are often reluctant to talk about their fandom with outsiders for fear of being mocked. However, with those who are seen as sympathetic, they can be quite loquacious, eager to discuss their favorite fan objects and the impact this has had on their lives. Fandom is therefore a different sort of subject than many of the more sensitive topics that social science research has focused on and which most of its guidelines are directed toward. Fans generally consider their fandom, fan objects, and the role it has played in their lives a positive and enjoyable thing to discuss but are aware of others' negative reactions to it and sensitive to having this important part of themselves denigrated.

[6.2] It was here that my own experience with fandom and my willingness to display and talk about it proved particularly useful. That I could talk about fandom itself and sometimes even the text in question with a sense of enthusiasm and knowledge meant that I had already taken the first step. I had proven myself, which, for this particular project, proved to be useful in gathering data and conducting interviews, as my interviewees were relaxed, willing to share, and on some occasions, directing me toward friends to interview as well. Taking a detached approach would have been less useful. Without my existing experience, my interviews and the data gathered from them would have been entirely different and possibly not as fruitful.

[6.3] As befitting my own more postmodernist and social constructivist background, my approach to interviews can be considered active (Gubrium and Holstein 2012b) in that I understand the interview process to be an active construction of meaning, both by myself and the respondents. I had a specific research question and/or problem in mind and designed the interviews in order to investigate this problem. The interviews I conducted were semistructured, utilizing an interview guide developed before the interviews but allowing for changes during the interviews themselves as necessary (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009). Questions varied between experiential/phenomenologically focused—what was done when and why—and emotionally focused—how experiences felt and were recalled—and were workshopped with my supervisor before the interviews were conducted. The respondents themselves, too, are active creators of meaning, in that they are not "vessels of answers" (Gubrium and Holstein, 14) for me to mine for objective truths but that they are presenting stories and narratives about their world that construct meaning in a certain way. I trusted that this is truthful information, in the sense that they were not lying to me about their experiences, memories, or feelings, but they are stories that I have elicited for a purpose. They are not neutral—but nor can they be.

[6.4] As befitting the grounded approach that I will discuss later in this article, initial interviews impacted the later ones, with the guides shifting and changing slightly as the process went on. My approach was much like Kvale and Brinkmann's conceptualization of the "traveler" style of interviewing, in which the researcher wanders the landscape of the data seeking out stories about it and the "potentialities of meanings in the original stories are differentiated and unfolded through the traveler's interpretations of the narratives he or she brings back to home audiences" (2009, 48–49). In keeping with this, I considered data collection and analysis as part of the same process, developing my ideas about the meaning of the data as I collected it and altering the interview guides as necessary to further develop these ideas. This was facilitated by two of the cases—Game of Thrones and The Prisoner—requiring a multisited approach in which different groups of fans were interviewed in different places over a space of several months, which meant I had time to think about the interviews in the interim. However, this was also facilitated by me making use of several case studies in general, as the cases built on each other in particular ways, impacting the way in which I thought about not only their specificities, but the phenomenon of film tourism more generally.

[6.5] Interviews were conducted in English, my native language and also the native language of the majority of my interviewees (a limitation that I was not able to overcome). Many, although not all, were conducted via Skype or the telephone. While this has disadvantages in terms of not being physically present with the interviewees and therefore being unable to always get the important physical nuances of a conversation (Hermanowicz 2002; Shuy 2011), for this study it had several advantages. Indeed, I switched to a Skype and/or telephone approach after attempting onsite interviews for my first study only to find that they are difficult to do well in a holiday setting. Those who are willing to participate in the interviews are unwilling to spend much time out of their holiday in participating, delivering shorter answers and wishing to get quickly back to their leisure activities. Financial and logistical concerns meant that following up in person was nearly impossible. By interviewing later via Skype or telephone, however, this is mitigated—interviewees can decide when they wish to be interviewed and ensure that there is enough time in which to complete the interview. That they could control where it happened also meant that they were in a more relaxed and contemplative state (compared to the chaos and noise of the location) and in a place that they felt comfortable and secure. It also meant that they were enthusiastic about participating and more aware of what it meant and what it would entail, as they had time to think about it as a result of the lag in being asked and the interview process commencing. The third case, on The Prisoner fans in Portmeirion, also involved some onsite interviewing, but because of the nature of the holiday (a fan convention over several days, with down time for socializing and relaxing), the interviews conducted there were also solicited ahead of time and conducted at the time and place of the interviewee's choosing. Therefore, conducting interviews in this fashion made the most sense for this research (helped by the visuality of Skype, which meant I could still see the majority of my respondents and they could see me) and offered several advantages that overshadowed its drawbacks.

[6.6] Once conducted, the interviews were transcribed verbatim, either by me or a research assistant depending on time and funding. I am a humanities scholar, trained in analyzing texts and concepts, and therefore I took a hermeneutic approach to the interviews (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009). By this I mean that I understood these interview transcripts as texts—as narratives and stories that my respondents told about their lives and practices—and treated them as such. This also extended to the eventual goals of the research: developing a conceptual understanding of what film tourism can do for the fans who participate in it.

[6.7] Reading through the transcripts as full texts was therefore quite important to me, to understand them as narratives that could then be connected to other narratives (Riessmann 2012). In these initial readings my first thoughts about the cases came to the forefront, helped by a process of memo-writing (note 2) as I read. At this point I utilized specialized software to do a finer, line-by-line coding of the interviews (Charmaz 2006), identifying commonalities and differences on the level of specific words and statements. I then began to focus on the thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) of my cases, identifying the major thematic and theoretical issues raised by my understanding of the data and its story and the different ways that the fan-tourists presented themselves. I also consulted the full texts of the interviews as I wrote, as I wanted to make sure I wasn't losing the overall story of the data by focusing too heavily on the codes—an attempt to balance the social science and humanities approach to the interviews.

[6.8] Compared to autoethnography or traditional acafandom, however, doing this research meant I needed to grapple with the impossibility of truly representing others, a difficult task mentally. This was not my life, which meant I had a responsibility to the person whose life it was, but I still needed to believe that I could add something to the discussion of these practices. This is something that the social sciences have grappled with in recent decades (Rosenau 1992), and understanding that this struggle is inherent to doing this kind of research was thus extremely helpful to me as a researcher. There is a recognition that the end result is based on the researcher's interpretations, as long as it is honest to the data. In the words of Rosenblatt, "I hope to write truth, not the truth, but certainly a truth" (2012, 17). In taking this as a guide, I felt I could bring myself and my background back into my results. I did not need to produce a full sociological survey of film tourism, but I could interpret the stories and narratives of my interviews in order to develop a conceptual and theoretical understanding of what film tourism as a practice can be.

[6.9] It is in combing the interpretive ethos of the humanities with the structure of the social sciences that I feel is a strength of modified acafandom. It lets me make use of the strengths of the acafan position—its respect for those being studied, the awareness of the position of the researcher, and the affective grounding of fandom—while keeping the focus on the experience of others. I am, after all, only one person, and I feel that different perspectives are necessary in order to explain a practice as complicated as film tourism (and the multiplicity of fandom in general). However, the interpretation of these different perspectives is mine, which I feel is what the researcher offers to the process—the "aca" part of acafandom. While I sent respondents copies of their interview transcripts when possible, I did not solicit their feedback on the interpretations I made (although I did send the final published articles to several respondents who wished to read them). I felt this was necessary in order to maintain my critical perspective, despite the connections I made with my respondents and my desire to be truthful to the data.

[6.10] This is how I, and assumedly others doing similar work, make use of social science methodology. In the end, I found it not as foreign as I thought starting out. After all, in some fashion, it is based on interpreting texts and drawing on my theoretical grounding in media and cultural studies. However, it began with the fans who have been so kind as to share their experiences with me.

7. Grounding the research

[7.1] That I consider this work to have begun with the fans who share their experiences with me also points to the final aspect of my methodological approach to the topic of film tourism, namely, that this was an inductive and emergent research, one that changed and grew throughout the course of the research project. In this, I was greatly indebted to the definition of grounded theory as described by Charmaz (2006), an approach that I feel dovetails nicely with the concerns and methodologies of fan studies. Charmaz portrays grounded theory as a "fluid, interactive, and open-ended" (178) process, one that is constantly evolving as the research goes on but is informed by what the researcher brings to the situation. It is a flexible approach, with guidelines rather than proscriptions, that allows different explorations of the data and the results that come from it. And ultimately, it begins with the data.

[7.2] This is the approach that I used when writing up my results, both for the articles I would write about the individual case studies and for the eventual final dissertation. I began with fairly open-ended questions about the experience of these places and went into the field with the intent of exploring where these questions would go. I built the interviews around this beginning question but left them open in order to follow up on different themes as they emerged, with each interview building on the last in some fashion. The themes that I discerned from my reading and coding of the interview data, my participatory observations, and online data were organized through a process of memo-writing; these themes eventually became theoretical concepts. It is at this point that I began the writing process, which brought all these observations and ideas together into a more coherent whole, connecting them to relevant prior research. The entirety of the work is therefore built around the ideas from the data analysis, with theoretical developments coming out of what I understand from the data rather than starting with a theory-based hypothesis and basing the data analysis around proving or disproving it.

[7.3] This grounded, emergent approach is also reflected in the way I designed the whole research project. Each case study built on aspects of the one before it, drawing from its conclusions and process in order to push the entire project forward. The first case, centered around Game of Thrones tourism, focused on the immediate imaginative experience of tourists, and allowed me to explore and gain an understanding of onsite film location tourism. It was here that I established some of the questions around the relationships between reality, fantasy, and physical experience that would guide the research as a whole.

[7.4] Armed with this grounding, I turned my attention to a recreated location of the sort that had been dismissed by both some of the respondents of my previous case and the literature that I read to support it. With a sense of how fan-tourists responded to the actual locations of filming, and the cultural values put on the real thing, I wanted to investigate the opposite—a recreated environment that I had encountered during a trip to Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The enthusiasm of many Harry Potter fans toward this environment raised different questions about authenticity and realism than had been addressed in prior research on film tourism, including my own. In researching these, I also encountered theoretical issues that hadn't come to the fore in my analysis of Game of Thrones tourism—namely, the ability to revisit the location (sometimes, in the case of Florida residents, on a very frequent basis) and the inherent sociality of being in an environment with so many other fans.

[7.5] It was these questions that ended up being at the forefront of my final case, investigating the relationship that fans of The Prisoner had with its main filming location of Portmeirion. As a long-established filming location and gathering place for fans of the show, it was a good opportunity to expand on the themes of the previous case while also looking at issues of longevity and sustainability in film tourism that had not been addressed in the previous cases. In its current form, however, it would have been impossible to do so without the experience of the other cases in the background. It was through having the understanding of contemporary Game of Thrones tourism and the experience at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I approached The Prisoner with the concerns I did, which then enabled me to draw particular conclusions from the data I gathered.

[7.6] This emergent approach also meant that it was not until I completed the cases that I developed a complete theoretical framework for my final dissertation. I was able to construct a broader theoretical exploration of film tourism by drawing on the issues and concerns raised in the case studies, comparing their similarities and differences in order to explore the ways in which film tourism was used and experienced by the fans and fan cultures profiled. It looked very different than the attempt I made to do this at the very beginning of my project, which I feel shows the value of this kind of inductive, emergent research.

[7.7] It is the emergent aspect of a grounded-theory approach that I think is of most use for a modified acafandom. To return to Hills (2012), what fan studies, as a discipline, often lacks is a sense of the multiplicity in fandom and fan practice. However, it is difficult to design a project around this multiplicity. What worked for me was thinking of uncertainty as a positive quality, that by starting in my own fandom and working outward I could follow what different fans were doing and keep in mind that this will change the more that I learned about them (which would lead to a more rounded final result). As with getting into a particular canon, the more I learned, the more I realized I had to learn about, which added to my enthusiasm for the project. Additionally, in keeping with fan studies' tradition of starting from already-existing fan practices, thinking of research as emergent—on the basis of what you get out of the data throughout and built upon what came before—can be a useful way of conceptualizing research design. I could adapt to what was out there as I encountered it. The grounded theory approach I used here gave me the flexibility to go in different directions and to think about film tourism—and fandom as a whole—differently as my research project went on.

8. Conclusion

[8.1] In this article, I have reflected on not only the steps I actually took in doing my research project but also the experience of using fan studies as a research strategy—its benefits and its drawbacks and how it can be adapted to different practices and perspectives. Over the past several decades fan studies has grown into a vibrant field, while fandom itself has expanded from a niche interest within film and television to an integral part of understanding contemporary relationships with media and culture, touching on everything from politics to visual art and beyond. At this crucial junction, it is important for fandom researchers to reflect on how they conduct their research and what it means to study fandom outside of its traditional spaces and approaches.

[8.2] I present one such method of doing so here, an approach I call modified acafandom. Drawing from the acafandom tradition, which builds upon the researcher's own experience with the fans and fandom being studied, I talk about how I drew on my own experience with fandom in conducting my research, while not claiming membership in the fan groups being studied. What this meant in practice is that fandom and my familiarity with its norms and attitudes was at the heart of my research design—it is how I understood my topic and how I focused my research questions. In conducting my research, it meant that I utilized my understanding and experience with fandom and fan practice to observe, approach, and interview fans, rather than basing my analysis on my experience of being a fan of these objects in a particular way. This approach drew on some of the traditions of the social sciences, such as netnography, participatory observation, and interviews, which were necessary in order to investigate my topic—after all, I am just one person, and fandom is full of multiplicities. I feel that this allowed me to draw on the strengths of traditional fandom research while expanding to new places.

[8.3] For myself, embracing the traditions of social science research allowed me to expand my own thinking about what fandom was. As a result of my experience researching film tourism in this way, I changed my perspective on how fans behaved and how they thought. I realized how necessary it is to look beyond the places I was comfortable with and the fans that resembled me and my friends. It was an intimidating experience, but ultimately a rewarding one. This is something I believe can benefit all fandom researchers. It leads to a needed reflexivity in regards to fandom and fan practice, reminding us that our way of doing fandom is not necessarily the only way. In using qualitative research methodologies and engaging with a broader spectrum of fans, we start to break down some of the insularity of the field as well as improve our own research by encountering new ideas and perspectives. This is a necessary step to understanding what fandom is and can be. However, we can do so without disregarding the benefits of utilizing one's own fandom. This, too, is part of the needed reflexivity for the field as it expands, as it allows us to acknowledge what our own experience brings to our research. It not only gives us an understanding of what our respondents go through but also can facilitate the research itself—I would not have had as much success in interviewing if I wasn't able to demonstrate my fandom credentials. What my approach shows is that researching other fans and forms of fandom does not mean that we must discard what brought us to fan studies in the first place, and our own fandom can, indeed, be an important tool when engaging with other fans.

[8.4] I don't suggest that this is the only way to face the new opportunities (and challenges) for fan studies and fandom research nor that my approach is revolutionary for the field. There are research projects and ideas that this approach would not suit, and other fandom researchers have taken similar approaches to mine. Rather, it is one way of building upon what has come before in fandom research and a suggestion of how these methods can be adapted to the current state of fandom. Fandom researchers have important insights into the contemporary media environment, where more and more relationships with mediated objects can be seen to have fannish qualities, and it is crucial that we are able to expand from the field's traditional subjects and practices into ones that look less like them. How can we use our skills and knowledge to analyze fandoms that we don't have personal experience with? This was a challenge that I was faced with in designing and executing my research project, and this was the way I went about meeting it. My hope is that this account can be of some help to other researchers in dealing with the same challenges and present one way of moving forward.

9. Notes

1. See also the series discussing the term on Jenkins's blog beginning here:

2. The term for notes taken by the researcher as they code their data, containing observations, thoughts, feelings, and so forth about the data as the researcher spends more time with it.

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