Toward some fanons of fan studies

Julia E. Largent

McPherson College, McPherson, Kansas, United States

Milena Popova

Bath, United Kingdom

Elise Vist

University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for guest-edited issue, "Fan Studies Methodologies," Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33 (June 15, 2020).

[0.2] Keywords—Acafan; Interdisciplinary; Methodology

Largent, Julia E., Milena Popova, and Elise Vist. 2020. "Toward Some Fanons of Fan Studies" [editorial]. In "Fan Studies Methodologies," edited by Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.2013.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Fan studies is an incredibly multi-inter-para-disciplinary field. We come from fields ranging from cultural studies to law, sociology to library science. We each bring unique perspectives, theories, theorists, methods, methodologies, epistemologies, and ontologies. We are theoretically and methodologically eclectic. Sometimes, this leads to magic. We have the flexibility to address a huge range of research questions—about fans, about texts, about practices, about the spaces where fans congregate, about structures and institutions that affect fandom, and about the ways fans and fandoms leave their mark on the world. Other times, this multi-inter-para-disciplinary eclecticism brings challenges. We have different ideas about rigor, objectivity, research ethics, and our own positionality. Sometimes it feels like someone else is trying, yet again, to reinvent the wheel—possibly even a wheel we ourselves (re)invented some time ago. And sometimes we find ourselves in a fandom field of one, because our approach is so unique that we cannot even get our work peer reviewed. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that, like at least some of our originary disciplines, we are reluctant to openly talk about methodology (Evans and Stasi 2014).

[1.2] So what we set out to do in this special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures is start conversations on how we do fan studies. We want this conversation to recognize the strengths, diversity, and potential of our field. At the same time, we want it to start grappling with some of the challenges we face: the citational elisions, the affect and embodiedness of our work, our at times conflicting/conflicted dual positionality as fans and scholars, the sometimes failed dialogue with fans who can and do talk back. We hope that this special issue will give you ideas for new approaches (and new collaborators!), will help you pinpoint and begin to address some of your own methodological anxieties, and will challenge you to think outside your theoretical and methodological comfort zone. We also very much hope that this is only the start of this conversation. We are not interested in canonizing one particular or even several methodologies. Rather, much like the fans we study, we would like to encourage you to build your own fanons of fan studies.

2. Theory

[2.1] The special issue's Theory section opens with two reflections on feminist influences in fan studies. Briony Hannell discusses fan studies and/as feminist methodology. She traces the links between early fan studies and feminist cultural studies while also drawing our attention to some of the citational silences and elisions when it comes to recognizing those links in the fan studies canon. Nonetheless, she argues, the way we do fan studies is fundamentally shaped by both feminist ethics and feminist epistemology. Also taking a feminist, affect-inflected approach, Sophie Hansal and Marianne Gunderson propose a fannish methodology for fan studies. They argue that engaging with our feelings toward our work is an integral part of our research. They ask us to challenge the feelings/rationality dichotomy; to both actively embrace and critically reflect on our dual positionality as fans and scholars; to pay attention to the social conditions and power structures that give rise to our emotions; and to continue practicing the theoretical and methodological eclecticism that our multi-inter-para-disciplinary field is rooted in.

[2.2] Continuing on the theme of positionality, Milena Popova examines the twin challenges of studying a fandom that lives largely online and that we as researchers are also already members of. They draw on traditional, digital, and autoethnography to propose a "follow the trope" approach, where our scholarly journey mirrors our fannish journey. Similarly, Dennis Jansen takes us on a journey through the archive—in this case, the digital archive created by and for fans. Jansen shows us the importance of our own affect and embodiment in encounters with archives and proposes paying detailed, autoethnographic attention to our archival explorations as a way of understanding the hierarchical and structuring relationships that govern archives and our engagements with them.

[2.3] One of the methodological anxieties many of us face regardless (and because) of our dual positionality as fans and scholars concerns the impact our work may have on the fans and fandoms we study. To grapple with that, Brianna Dym and Casey Fiesler put fans in the center when asking the question, "How should we do fan studies?" Their interview study foregrounds some of the concerns fans have about fan studies scholars using, dissecting, questioning, and recontextualizing or decontextualizing their work. They explore the tensions between seeking permission for use and obscuring fannish identities while giving fair attribution. They remind us of the importance of understanding the fannish spaces we move in and sharing our work back with fandom.

[2.4] Naomi Jacobs embraces the multi-inter-para-disciplinary character of fan studies and encourages us to learn from other fields that have coalesced in a similar way, notably design studies. While acknowledging the institutional challenges that interdisciplinary research faces, she argues for a bricolage approach to methodology that allows us to pick the right methods to answer our research questions. She foregrounds participatory action research as one possible method that would allow us to negotiate the tension between our scholarship and our fandom in an ethical and productive way. Our next two articles both illustrate the bricolage approach to methodology and highlight the diversity of research directions in our field. Christopher Luke Moore proposes a persona-inflected fan studies that would allow us to interrogate the experience of being—or presenting oneself as—a semipublic or public fan in a digital world. Such an approach allows us to attend to the way fans negotiate their identities and presentations with the world they inhabit: with their (micro)publics but also with nonhuman actors such as media corporations and platforms. At the other end of the fan-text spectrum, Suzanne R. Black gives us a novel approach to the paratext as a place where fan fiction readers and writers interact, and where text and work meet. She shows us how computational methods can help us better understand the work that paratexts do in fan fiction, and the way fan fiction may be both similar to and different from other types of texts.

[2.5] The last word in our Theory section goes to Rukmini Pande, who shows us that for all their feminism, queerness, and squee, both fandom and fan studies are fraught with power relations along other axes of oppression. A true reckoning with issues of race continues to be one such absence from the fan studies bricolage. Pande highlights the citational silences and elisions that a focus on the (white) feminist history of fan studies leaves us with. She also persuasively argues that some of our ethical and methodological anxieties vis-à-vis our relationship with fans may be oriented in the wrong direction. Applying decolonial critiques of ethnography to fan studies' engagement with privileged white women fans in spaces where race continues to be an invisibilized structuring force is one example of such misplaced anxiety. In the ethics and permission space, Pande also encourages us to consider whom we are protecting and privileging, and whom we are silencing, in our desire to protect fannish sources. To counteract the operations of whiteness in both fandom and fan studies, Pande encourages us to both name invisibilized whiteness and to actively disrupt whitewashed stories of fandom. Fans of color, after all, have always been here.

3. Praxis

[3.1] The question of the relationship between the "aca" and the "fan" is at the heart of the two opening essays of our Praxis section. Adrienne E. Raw asks what fan studies scholars are doing when we disclose our fannish identity in our research. Raw uses rhetorical analysis of sixty-nine articles published in Transformative Works and Cultures to map out the rhetorical moves we make when we position ourselves as acafans, and the implications this practice may have for the power relationships between scholar and fan. In contrast, Abby Waysdorf uses her personal experiences to explore how we might apply acafannish approaches to studying fandoms we may not be part of. By using autoethnography and social sciences to help center the research, Waysdorf proposes a modified acafandom and discusses how this approach helped her study film tourism.

[3.2] Showing us some of the practical implications of Brianna Dym and Casey Fiesler's work from our Theory section and continuing to explore fan-researcher dialogues, Daisy Pignetti reflects on what happens when fans don't agree with or appreciate the way their fandom is researched. She uses a personal experience from her own work to reflect on how to best research and present findings without having individuals misinterpret them or her intentions.

[3.3] Fan studies bricoleurs have plenty to choose from in the following three articles. CarrieLynn D. Reinhard applies Brenda Dervin's sense-making methodology (SMM) to fan studies. Using interview protocols for one-on-one interviews and focus groups, Reinhard argues that SMM can help fan scholars make sense of different areas of fan studies not previously investigated, and that it can add a quantifiable slant to phenomenological and interpretive approaches to fan studies. Looking at an issue more frequently debated by fans and legal practitioners than fan studies scholars, Ruth Flaherty shows us how methods from law and legal research allow us to look at different facets of the relationship between copyright and fan fiction. Her work focuses on the UK legal context, but there is a strong case for reapplying Flaherty's methods to other jurisdictions. Lies Lanckman draws on classic Hollywood fans from the 1920s and 1930s to add to an underresearched area of fan studies: fan history. She argues that fan magazines, specifically the fan magazine letter sections, are a productive way to look at historically lost fan populations. Using a combination of content analysis of the magazines and US census records from 1920, 1930, and 1940 to create demographic profiles, Lanckman paints a vivid picture of a fan community of the past.

[3.4] Our Praxis section closes with a vibrant discussion between four scholars on themes of interdisciplinarity, race and whiteness, and transcultural fandom. Erika Ningxin Wang, Brittany Kelley, Ludi Price, and Kristen Schuster build on Naomi Jacobs's work on moving from multidisciplinarity to true interdisciplinarity. The deep conversation the authors have about their experiences across both disciplinary and racial/cultural boundaries points the way to a true interdisciplinary praxis in a transcultural fan studies.

4. Symposium

[4.1] Our Symposium section opens by considering the challenges of being new to our multi-inter-para-disciplinary field. Mandy Rhae Olejnik and Danielle Hart address the issue that many scholars (and many fans who become scholars) often do not receive explicit instruction in fan studies, so we often find ourselves reconstructing foundational concepts from scratch. However, these foundational concepts are shared and are worth naming explicitly. Olejnik and Hart propose three such so-called threshold concepts to ground our discussions and guide our methodological approaches. Sarah Elizabeth Ader adds valuable perspective here by recounting her own first foray into fan studies research and grappling with the questions it raised about her acafannish positionality. She shows how at different points in our research we may move between different points of a spectrum between fan and academic, and she urges us to embrace (reflexively and self-critically) the complexity of this ever-shifting dual positionality.

[4.2] Our next two articles take the opportunity to showcase particular methodological approaches available to the fan studies bricoleur. Maria Alberto highlights the use of platform studies to fan studies. She notes that many fan studies scholars are already engaging in platform studies, though they often do so without naming it as such. (Arguably both Milena Popova and Dennis Jansen in our Theory section do this.) Alberto argues that fan studies is also uniquely placed to resolve a key challenge of platform studies: its tendency to understate the importance of users to platforms. The recognition of fan labor and its impact on the spaces fans inhabit is, after all, central to fan studies scholarship. Shayla Olsen introduces fictocriticism—a form of critical creative writing—as a method especially appropriate to fan studies scholarship. She positions fictocriticism as an extension of the self-reflexive autoethnographic work that many fan studies scholars already engage in. Since we recognize the ways in which fans can create knowledge and learn about themselves in fan fiction, Olsen argues, fan studies scholars might engage in the same kind of work, thereby tapping into the power of fan fiction as a research method.

[4.3] Our next two authors ask how we bring aspects of ourselves and our fannish impulses into our research. Martine Mussies proposes an autoethnography informed by autism "as a special way of being in the world"—an auti-ethnography. Taking advantage of the rigor of autoethnography, autiethnography allows an even fuller expression of the experience of fandom, one that includes scholarly discourse but that is also informed by personal identities and experiences of fandom. Dawn Walls-Thumma also recognizes that fan studies can be informed by fannish experiences and impulses, arguing that fan scholars can also be inspired to fill gaps in canon, just as fans are. By bringing appropriate new methods into fan studies scholarship, scholars can mend gaps in research.

[4.4] The final two pieces of our Symposium section explore our orientations to fannish material when we remove it from its original context and make it part of our research or teaching practice. Regina Yung Lee traces the challenges (and victories) of teaching not just fan studies but fannish work to students. Transplanting fannish work into the classroom requires forms of evaluation and engagement alien to fandom (such as grading), and this exacerbates imbalances in power and affective labor. Teaching fannish work, then, requires careful planning—and careful placement of boundaries—by the instructor. Milena Popova also explores the challenges and complexities of bringing fannish knowledge into academic institutions. They argue that fannish material is not always merely data for our research but can also be knowledge creation in its own right. But fannish knowledge production has different foundations and knowledge validation procedures than academia. When we use fannish material in our work, we must be mindful of the fact that our orientation to it—as data, as knowledge in its own right, or as something to be critiqued—is a methodological choice that requires careful consideration and justification.

[4.5] All our Symposium articles (and more generally this special issue) share the underlying argument that our messy field is wondrous, but we must get better at naming our choices and methods explicitly; and that fan studies scholars can bring ourselves into our work, so long as we do so critically and carefully as a method. Echoing—or more accurately presaging, because this interview was conducted in 2018—this, Louisa Ellen Stein reflects on her experiences as both a fan and a scholar trying to navigate the multiple pressures of bringing her whole self into her scholarship. Fannish and academic values do not always align, especially when it comes to the validation of fannish knowledge. In addition, to argue that all fan scholars should always bring every aspect of themselves to bear in their work is unsustainable; to do so is just as limiting as to refuse the self in scholarship entirely. But as both Adrienne E. Raw and Sarah Elizabeth Ader point out in this issue, our choices of which aspects we bring in and which aspects we disclose in themselves do work in our research and our writing. In line with this, Stein calls for "a strategic personal scholarship" (¶ 17) that chooses methods and orientations appropriate to the work and to the context. In short, Stein argues that we need to start naming fannish and felt scholarship as a method we take up, not as an ideology we must always inhabit.

[4.6] This is the argument that has informed our relationship to this special issue; we did not want to call for one method to rule them all. Instead, we want to highlight the wealth of methods we have to choose from. We urge fan studies scholars to be more explicit in naming not only the tools we are using but the orientations we have to our work and our fellow fans, and consider how those orientations might apply power unequally.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] We would like to thank all of the authors who contributed to this issue. Without you, this issue would be empty.

[5.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 33 in an editorial capacity: Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Lori Morimoto (Symposium); and Katie Morrissey and Louisa Ellen Stein (Review).

[5.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 33 in a production capacity: Christine Mains and Rrain Prior (production editors); Jennifer Duggan, Beth Friedman, Christine Mains, and Vickie West (copyeditors); Claire Baker, Christine Mains, Sarah New, and Rebecca Sentance (layout); and Karalyn Dokurno, Rachel P. Kreiter, Christine Mains, and Latina Vidolova (proofreaders).

[5.4] TWC thanks the board of the Organization for Transformative Works. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[5.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the following peer reviewers who provided their services for TWC No. 33: Maria Alberto, Ceilyn Boyd, Elizabeth Downey, Emory Edwards, Amy Finn, Julianna Friend, Katie Gillespie, Eric James, Poe Johnson, Stacey Lantagne, Regina Yung Lee, Alon Lischinsky, Allison McCracken, Christine Schreyer, Mafalda Stasi, J. Caroline Toy, Erin Webb, and Natasha Whiteman.

6. Reference

Evans, Adrienne, and Mafalda Stasi. 2014. "Desperately Seeking Methodology: New Directions in Fan Studies Research." Participations 11 (2): 4–23. https://www.participations.org/Volume%2011/Issue%202/2.pdf.