Delegitimizing strategic power: Normative identity and governance in online R.E.M. fandom


  • Lucy Bennett Cardiff University



Fan community, Governance, Internet, Music, Normativity


How can strategies of governance in an online fan community be resisted by fans? By drawing on Henry Jenkins's application of de Certeau's concepts of strategy and tactics to fandom, I examine the regulation of normative behavior and show how fans can collectively devise tactics to delegitimize and reject strategies applied by the hierarchy, consequently becoming self-steering. To articulate these tensions that can arise within a fan community, I draw on a case study of normative fan identity within Murmurs, an online community for fans of left-leaning liberal American rock band R.E.M. I show how norms in the community are constructed through values of liberalism such as tolerance, equality, and goodwill. Focusing on how normative behavior in a community is not a given but is governed through strategies of power employed by the hierarchy, I explore how two strategies were successfully resisted by members on the basis that they subverted these values of liberalism. My argument demonstrates how the strategies worked to explicitly expose governmentality (Foucault's concept) within the community, with fans becoming aware that they were instrumental in a process of self-governance, collectively devising tactics, and steering themselves to reject the strategies. This has broad implications for understanding and predicting the power dynamics of other online fan communities, and in particular for formulating responses to implementation of strategies of surveillance and governance.