Fandom, Participatory Culture and Web 2.0
Speaking at South by Southwest several years ago, I joked that “Web 2.0 was fandom without the stigma.” By this, I meant that sites like YouTube, Flickr, Second Life, and Wikipedia have made visible a set of cultural practices and logics that had been taking root within fandom over the past hundred-plus years, expanding their cultural influence by broadening and diversifying participation. In many ways, these practices have been encoded into the business models shaping so-called Web 2.0 companies, which have in turn made them far more mainstream, have increased their visibility, and have incorporated them into commercial production and marketing practices. The result has been a blurring between the grassroots practices I call participatory culture and the commercial practices being called Web 2.0.
Fans have become some of the sharpest critics of Web 2.0, asking a series of important questions about how these companies operate, how they generate value for their participants, and what expectations participants should have around the content they provide and the social networks they entrust to these companies. Given this trajectory, a familiarity with fandom may provide an important key for understanding many new forms of cultural production and participation and, more generally, the logic through which social networks operate.
So, to define our three terms, at least provisionally, fandom refers to the social structures and cultural practices created by the most passionately engaged consumers of mass media properties; participatory culture refers more broadly to any kind of cultural production which starts at the grassroots level and which is open to broad participation; and Web 2.0 is a business model that sustains many web-based projects that rely on principles such as user-creation and moderation, social networking, and “crowdsourcing.”
That said, the debates about Web 2.0 are only the most recent set of issues in cultural and media studies which have been shaped by the emergence of a field of research focused on fans and fandom. Fan studies:
- emerged from the Birmingham School’s investigations of subcultures and resistance
- became quickly entwined with debates in Third Wave Feminism and queer studies
- has been a key space for understanding how taste and cultural discrimination operates
- has increasingly been a site of investigation for researchers trying to understand informal learning or emergent conceptions of the citizen/consumer
- has shaped legal discussions around appropriation, transformative work, and remix culture
- has become a useful window for understanding how globalization is reshaping our everyday lives.
- trace the history of fandom from the amateur press associations of the 19th Century to its modern manifestations
- describe the evolution of fan studies from the Birmingham School work on subcultures and media audiences to contemporary work on digital media
- discuss a range of theoretical framing and methodologies which have been used to explain the cultural, social, political, legal, and economic impact of fandom
- arbitrate the most common critiques surrounding the Web 2.0 business model
- situate fan practices in relation to broader trends toward social networks, online communities, and remix culture
- develop their own distinctive contribution to the field of fan studies, one which reflects their own theoretical and methodological commitments
This course will be structured around an investigation of the contribution of fan studies to cultural theory, framing each class session around a key debate and mixing writing explicitly about fans with other work asking questions about cultural change and the politics of everyday life.
Henry Jenkins’ syllabus. Must read books for anyone interested in the evolution of digital media. Visit Professor Jenkin’s blog for the full text.