Culturally mapping universes: Fan production as ethnographic fragments


  • Jen Gunnels New York Review of Science Fiction
  • Carrie J. Cole



Boal, Dramaturgy, Ethnography, Fan production


Ethnography has played a large role in fan studies; thus, any mention of ethnography in conjunction with fan studies is unsurprising. Ethnography's use of performance studies and the subsequent emphasis on embodied practice, however, creates new intersections between ethnography and the fan. Thus far, the fan has been relegated to the position of ethnographic subject. We argue here that the fan can be viewed as an ethnographer proper, mining ethnographic fragments from the source material in order to explore and explain the workings of a fictive culture within a fictive universe. The nature of fan production when viewed in such a manner is highly dramaturgical in nature. To account for this within the ethnographic framework, we use the term ethnodramaturg to describe how the fan works within a fictive universe to study and create dramatic story lines based within that world. Performatively, the fan enacts the ethnographer's in-betweenness. Both fan and ethnographer are not of the culture and yet not not of the culture they explore and attempt to explain. In ethnography, this means the subject is simultaneously observed and created through the use of ethnographic objects, or fragments. These fragments are then displayed or dramatically deployed independently of that source. Fan-produced media, having been excised from the source material, can be viewed as ethnographic fragments. Fans, as ethnodramaturgs, carve out discrete objects of the fictive world for study and link them together in a performative story line.

Author Biographies

Jen Gunnels, New York Review of Science Fiction

I am an independent scholar specializing in Performance Studies but beginning to branch into Fan Studies. I received my doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin where most of my research involved identity play at Renaissance festivals.

Carrie J. Cole

Carrie J. Cole is an Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of Arizona, where she also serves as Resident Dramaturg for Arizona Repertory Theatre. In addition she works in the region as a freelance dramaturg and fight director. University of Arizona