Your first hybrid assignment will also be the one that takes you the most time to complete. (You will also have extra time to complete this assignment!) You will begin orienting yourself both to a specific fandom and the community (or communities) surrounding it and to one method/framework for understanding those communities. Fan communities are many things. They are places to share enthusiasms, conversations (and criticisms) of the fanned object, places to share fan works or objections to fan works. The conversations very often veer from the object of fandom to issues raised by that object or to subjects that have (seemingly) little to do with that object. Fan communities also are, fundamentally, discourse communities with their own shared goals and lexical conventions. While there may be disagreement within fan communities (wank) they operate under the same set of basic values and assumptions. According to Patricia Bizzell “Producing text within a discourse community cannot take place unless the writer can define her goals in terms of the community’s interpretive conventions.” Therefore, one of the first things we need to do when beginning to study a fan community is to assess its goals and values, and understand the way its members communicate with one another. Step 1: Before you begin exploring online fan communities, read “Intro to Ethnography” (in Electronic Reserves/Fandom folder) for some insight into what anthropologists do. You are not entering physical communities, but you will be entering virtual communities and, as you will see, there are certainly some commonalities. Think about those commonalities and the implications of studying a community that you may either be completely unfamiliar with, or, perhaps deeply embedded in. Also consider the benefits and pitfalls to this approach to working with fan communities. Allow approximately 50 minutes to read and annotate this chapter. Step 2: For your first foray into examining fandoms, identify at least three fan communities associated with the particular fandom you are considering exploring this semester (i.e. three different communities based on the same fanned object) These communities can be on Reddit, Tumblr, Archive of Our Own (AO3), fanfiction.net, deviantart , WattPad, Twitter (to the extent that Twitter manifests itself as a community), Instagram, or You Tube, or can be specific forums dedicated to that fanned object (i.e. Pottermore or Mugglenet in the case of Harry Potter). Be aware that some fan fiction sites may contain material of a sexual nature. If you decide to study these sites MAKE SURE you read any and all warnings that preface the story. There will usually be a rating system (G-NC-17) and there will be a description of the story. Don’t read anything you think you will find offensive. Allow approximately 90 to locate and work with each of the three communities. How do you find communities? If you are not already familiar with specific fan communities, then the obvious place to start is with a Google search. Depending on the fandom however, this might yield a dizzying array of results – or hardly anything at all. For example a search with the terms “game of thrones fan” produced 70, 200,000 hits. Yes – that number is correct. Seventy *million*. A search on “homestuck fan” got 4,350.00 hits and a search on “gilligans island fans” got 646,000 hits. The encouraging part of this is that there are rarely fandoms so obscure that there are no fansites whatsoever. Another way to find fan communities is to go directly to the umbrella sites that house them. Go directly to Deviantart, Reddit or Fanfiction.net and search for the fandom you are looking for. (A note about fanfiction.net – they do not accept any fanfiction written about real people – which means if you are searching for a particular actor or musician you will not find anything there. Better places to look for Real Person Fic or RPF would be Wattpad or Archive or Our Own.) What do you do once you’ve found them? Step 3: Take field notes (see the handout attached to this assignment). Note what distinguishes each community. What assumptions do the members of the community make about each other? What can you say about the language they use? What *matters* to the community members? What unites them? What divides them? Allow approximately 30 minutes to take these notes. (Note – you will probably take notes as you work with each community.) You might want to begin with merely thinking about fandom names, how they have come about and what they say about the fandom as a whole. Beyonce’s Bey-hive, Hamilton’s Hami-trash (since changed to Hamil-fans), Supernatural’s SPN Family, etc. Why do fan communities name themselves? What does that suggest about fans’ relationship to both their object of fandom, their community and other (perhaps competing??) fandoms?
Step 1: Reading “Intro to Ethnography” provides insight into the work of anthropologists and their methods of studying communities, including virtual ones. The commonalities between physical and virtual communities include shared goals, values, and communicative conventions. The benefits of studying fan communities include gaining a deeper understanding of the fandom, its members, and their perspectives. The pitfalls may include misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and the potential for harm to the community or its members.
Step 2: To identify fan communities associated with a particular fandom, a Google search is a good starting point. However, the results can be overwhelming or scarce, depending on the fandom. Directly visiting umbrella sites such as Deviantart, Reddit, or Fanfiction.net may yield better results. When exploring these communities, be aware of warnings and rating systems for explicit content.
Step 3: Taking field notes is an essential part of studying fan communities. It involves observing and noting what distinguishes each community, its members’ assumptions, language use, and what matters to them. It also involves identifying what unites and divides the community members. Additionally, considering how fan communities name themselves can reveal insights into their relationships with their fandom, their community, and other fandoms.
Studying fan communities requires a deep understanding of their goals, values, and communicative conventions. It involves identifying and exploring different communities, taking field notes, and analyzing the observations to gain insights into the fandom, its members, and their perspectives.