As the second talk in the Early Career Research Talks series, Brittany Kelley will give a presentation entitled ‘A Family Affair: Family, Love, and Emotioned Fannish Literacy’.
In the 25 years since the publication of Jenkins’ and Bacon-Smith’s foundational studies on media fandoms and fanfiction, fandom has achieved a much more mainstream status. Fan conventions such as Comic Con hold global popular appeal, with the Comic Con website boasting recent yearly attendance of over 130,000. Even some popular TV shows such as Supernatural have come to acknowledge (if not fully embrace) fan activities including fanwriting (Larsen & Zubernis, 2013; Booth, 2015; Williams, 2015, 2018). In large part, this more widespread positive representation of fandom is thanks to its growing visibility via memes and fanart in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as the huge popularity of the personal blogging website, Tumblr. In addition, fan practices are now surrounded by a larger cultural practice of making and sharing. Within such a context, fan practices are uniquely positioned to help us to better understand the intersections of the digital, embodied-emotional experience, and literacies.
Early fan studies focused both on how fan groups were formed and how fans learned to be fans (Jenkins, 1992; Bacon-Smith, 1992, 2000; Penley, 1997). Only more recent studies have begun to theorise the roles emotions play in the development of fan identities (Larsen & Zubernis 2013; Williams 2015, 2018). However, as Shirley Brice Heath (1983; 2012) and Deborah Brandt (2001; 2009) have shown, family plays a crucial role in the development of literacy practices. Unfortunately, while there are frequent references to family in fan studies, these references are typically limited to the tensions between the family obligations of married women and mothers and their fannish desires (see especially Larsen & Zubernis 2013). Family has been critically under-theorised in fan studies. Furthermore, while literacy scholarship has often looked at the importance of family in developing literacy skills, much of this research has focused on the implications for school (Street, 1984, 2006, 2009; Williams, 2009; Williams & Zenger, 2012). And while James Paul Gee (2003; 2004) has looked extensively at the relationships between literacy, learning, and video games, which certainly brings together emotion, embodiment, learning and digital technologies, it does not address the longer-term relationships among family, learning, and identity. While Heath’s and Brandt’s key studies do not deal with the roles of the digital or of entertainment in the development of literacy practices, they do provide key guiding theories that can bring together the various fields of fan studies, literacy studies, and digital humanities.
In this talk, I bring together the fields of fan studies, literacy studies, and affect theory to better theorise the role of family within fan practices. In this talk, I will focus on how ‘family’ plays a role in the complex digital literacy practices we see in online fanfiction communities. In the course of the talk, I will address the following questions:
- First, what are the different ways that fans might view a concept like “family”?
- Second, what are the different experiences fans might have of family in relation to their development of fannish interests, particularly fanwriting?
- Third, how do fans write about ‘family’ in their stories?
- And, finally, how can these fans’ experiences help us to better understand the complex kinds of meaning-making and identity-formation that happen in fanwriting practices online, and perhaps online practices more generally?
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/popculturegeek/4940418003