Fan Studies Network Conference 2014: A reflection

The second annual Fan Studies Network (FSN) Conference took place in London, on 27-28th of September. Short summary: it was awesome. Now, let me tell you why…

After following last year’s amazing kick-off in Norwich, the conference extended from 1 day to 2. This meant there was more room for panels and keynotes, so two full days dedicated to discussing the current status quo in fan research. Yes, I prefer fan research over fan studies since most of include fans in their work instead of being a hard-core fan study’er, as in: We all come from different disciplines and introduce these (or the other way around) to studying / researching fans, hence fan research.

Paul Booth‘s keynote kicked off the conference with interesting insights in not only how neoliberalism is (albeit) slowly making its way into fan studies (a topic I’m very interested in), but also a call to arms: we are raising the future fans / fan scholars as current scholars working in the field. So how to deal with all narratives that this brings forward? How to ‘educate’ fans? With that in mind, the different panels held at the FSN conference are really telling about how fan research can influence us – as citizens, consumers, media users, media lovers, audience members etc. Obviously, I have not seen all panels, but from here on I would like to dive a little deeper into the Fandom & Identity panel, Spaces of Fandom, Gender (which I won’t discuss), and Hierarchies & Capital (does this reveal that I’m ‘working’ with fans from a media studies & cultural sociological perspective?).

Fandom & Identity
Fandom is part of someone’s self-narrative, an expression of individuality, but also a means to be warranted in a group. The talks in this panel discussed the how & why of such narratives. For instance how cosplay was appropriated differently across South-East Asia; e.g. different ways of how it helps in constructing / performing identity in China and Hong Kong discussed by Anne Peirson-Smith, whereas Zoe Shacklock focused on how podcast Welcome to the Night Vale’ fandom deals with racial representation, especially the idea of white privilege. Eoin Devereux’s paper on Latino/Chicano fans of Morrisey showed how this group – who finds themselves somehow represented in the songs of Morrisey, because he is ‘an outsider’ too and sings about this. People recognize themselves in his lyrics and the perspective he addresses in his songs and hence he has build up an enormous fandom in LA (where he currently resides if I’m not mistaken).
Furthermore, this was ‘own’ session in which I presented the first insights in the long-term fandom of Dutch Backstreet Boys fans. The now adult fans appropriate the band differently in their lives and being a ‘post-youth’ fan is a commitment that goes beyond liking the boys music, it’s also about friendships and engaging with practices that were previously not possible.

Spaces of Fandom
The talks all connected by their descriptions of the different levels and spaces of participation addressed in them: ever since 1992 we assume fans to be participatory and active media users, but how do these levels and how do we define these layers?
The spaces of fandom panel presented 4 speakers discussing how fans create and engage with spaces of participation: e.g. Ross Garner’s talk about Nirvana fans visiting an official exhibition in contrast to a place they created as their ‘DIY heritage site’ Veritta Park. Both offer sites of commemoration, but obviously the perception of authenticity varies. Katherine Larsen and Abby Waysdorf both talked the fan as ‘tourist’. Larsen made a distinction between the two by declaring the fan to be the more active one of the two (in her talk discussing the 9 3/4 platform at Charing Cross) who will negotiate the replacement of the platform, whereas the tourist, more passive, is (simply stated) ‘just’ taking pictures. This latter category is a type of behavior that Waysdorf defines as ‘momentary fandom’ to indicate that the level of participation (as a fan) is only of temporary nature. Lastly, Emily Garside talked about the immersive play ‘The Drowned man’, which is also a form of heightened momentary fandom as the play requires its visitors to actively engage in the play by running along with the actors or exploring different rooms and in that way discovering and following the narrative of the play. Yet, the difficulty for the fans here lies in the fact that everyone witnessed and created their own storyline, and many visitors had to return to the site to re-engage and ‘immerse’ themselves over and over in the story.

Hierarchies & Capital
A very sociological panel! The connecting element of this panel was Bourdieu’s concept subcultural capital. Nicolle Lamerichs addressed a form of this subcultural capital – as gaming capital – in her talk on Indie Games, especially the necessity of this capital to explore and interpret The Stanley Parable. Whereas the game seems easy to play at first, there is a deeper and darker level of ‘play’ if one know how to put his gaming capital to use. Ciaran Ryan described how the collecting of punk fanzines is a practice of capital accumulation. Most of these zines are collectors items, yet not in terms of economic capital but – going beyond subcultural capital – in emotional capital. The collectors – punk lads from Ireland in this case study – so become gatekeepers who maintain (and archive?) these artifacts of memorabilia. And lastly in this panel, Catherine Williams talked about subcultural capital and hierarchy in the the world of Wizard Rock, where amateur recordings and the DIY spreading of this music still stays the norm – even though the books/ movies are heavily commercialized by Warner Brothers.

The last panel also nicely connected to Rhiannon Bury‘s keynote ‘The End of Fandom as we know it?’: Drawing on an enormous sample of her television 2p0 study, Bury provides an overview of participatory culture in three different Media Ages. The First – ever since popular culture / TV shows – technologies enabled fans to share material and spread material, in the Second Media Age the ‘birth of the fan community’ happens, slowly fandoms start to go online, as an extension to their offline activities.. But currently – the Third Age – we can like, follow, watch everything and everyone. Yet, hope should not be lost; the third wave platforms do offer / serve as entry point to the second wave.

Panel discussion
The changes in practices and the challenges that the Third Age Fandom brings were also present in some of the talks from the Ashgate Research Companion to Fan Studies Panel. As Matt Hills opened the panel with the statement that there is a neglect of ‘becoming a fan’ stories, whereas Ruth Deller (somewhat contradicting this) talked us through a decade in the life of online fans (of Cliff Richard and Belle & Sebastian). Other talks nicely related to Booth’s proposition of ‘educating fans‘. Anti-fans are such a group that is hateful (or maybe just super critical?) about fans, not always in respectful ways, as Nathalie Claessens & Hilde van den Bulck argue. In the Irish heavy-metal scene, this distinction of ‘civilized manners’ played out in an on- and offline difference as Gary Sinclair illustrated: the modes of behavior from these metal fans was less friendly online, whereas offline – in the mosh pit or at concert – they submit to subcultural codes.

The conference concluded with a keynote / Q & A session with actor (and fan! or amateur fan scholar?) Orlando Jones. Jones answered several questions from ‘us’ as fan researchers which provided insights in him as an actor dealing with fans, him as a fan participating in fan communities (e.g. live tweeting of episodes or answering questions via Twitter), but also how the industry deals with fans (and many more!).

A super-engaging conference that really offers a up-to-date perspective on what fan researchers are working in. The panels mentioned here formed about 1/3 of the program, so I have not even touched upon all of them, but it does illustrate the broad range and scope, and in such the variety and diversity, of topics that people discuss in relation to fans. And, I think that in this variety the strength of fan research lies: by appropriating and introducing different fields to each other we gain more knowledge about fan practices and levels of participation in a critical perspective. And these new perspectives may not always celebratory, but they do provide us with best practices and in such, (a) tremendous learning(s) about this specific group of audience members.

* If you still want to know more, or would like to know more about a specific panel: there’s an enormous amount of tweets, which you can find via #FSN2014. Further, Lori , Emily and Nicolle also have written blogs about their experiences at the conference 🙂

Looking forward to next year, #FSN2015! And thank you – again – for the amazing weekend Bethan, Bertha, Lucy, Richard and Tom!


One thought on “Fan Studies Network Conference 2014: A reflection

  1. Pingback: Fan Studies Network Conference 2014 | Nicolle Lamerichs

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