- Researching Online Fandom
My first ventures into academia began while studying for an undergraduate degree in journalism, film, and broadcasting at Cardiff University. Though I initially wanted to be a music journalist, it was during working for this degree that I realized that academic writing ignited a stronger passion within me. Rather than write about music in the journalistic sense, I decided to pursue my studies in the area of fandom with a specific focus on the Internet. It was through my exposure to Matt Hills’s and Will Brooker’s work at the time that I began to understand how I could conduct valid and exciting research that interrogated and explored the fields of fandom and cyber studies.
Thus, my main areas of research and study have evolved to encompass an intersection of audiences and the Internet—how the Internet is used, how power is negotiated, and the ways in which social media affects communications. Within this field, I am most fascinated by fan cultures and fandom, and my work mainly looks at popular music fan networks and communities. My PhD, completed in November 2009 (also at Cardiff University), was a cyber-ethnography, focused on Murmurs.com, an online community of the American rock band R.E.M. Under the supervision of Matt Hills, I explored how normative behavior within the community was encouraged and maintained. In doing so, I examined the importance of, and power relations surrounding, oppositional fan identities and the manner with which fans negotiate community norms.
As a fan, community member, and part of the administrative team that helped run the community, I was in a unique and challenging position to undertake this research and provide original insight into the maintenance of fan communal norms. In this sense, I had a personal investment in my object of analysis, as Hollis Griffin has also experienced and outlined in his essay in this section. While conducting the ethnography, the scholars that inspired me most were Will Brooker, Henry Jenkins, Matt Hills, Daniel Cavicchi, Nancy Baym, and Cornel Sandvoss. Brooker’s work continues to remain an important source of inspiration: I later built on his chapter on Lost fans in particular in my [End Page 129] own post-PhD study of Lost online fandom and its approaches to temporal play within the narrative.1
At the same time, reading Henry Jenkins’s influential Textual Poachers allowed me to understand and consider further how fan cultures often produce rich and powerful methods of reading, adapting, and approaching the fan texts.2 Jenkins’s application of de Certeau’s “strategy” and “tactics” to fandom also proved revelatory in my initial foray into fan studies. In my PhD dissertation, I sought, then, to discover how normative behavior could be maintained and encouraged in an online fan community—in other words, how the accepted or “right” ways of fan conduct and the expectations and conventions of a fan community were communicated to members. Alongside Jenkins’s work, I drew on Mary Douglas’s theory of “matter out of place” and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopic spaces to demonstrate how fan communities can approach nonnormative behavior (or, conducting themselves in the “wrong” way) through the use of bounded space and discourses of order and rationality.3
Matt Hills’s Fan Cultures also became a key text for me, especially in terms of understanding my liminal position as scholar-fan and researcher, which often pulled me in two directions. Hills’s cautionary advice—that “asking” participants, most specifically fans, is fraught with the danger of their “auto legitimizing their responses”—contributed significantly to my ethnographic approach.4 Being aware of this proposition that simply “asking” participants is insufficient in itself to deliver comprehensive knowledge integral to the ethnography, I strived to maintain a balance between “asking” the fan participants and highlighting the “gaps and dislocations” within their responses and community discourse—an approach that has continued to shape my current work.
Daniel Cavicchi’s work on Bruce Springsteen fans was also extremely influential. In particular, his descriptions of fans attending live Springsteen concerts and the ways in which fandom is a distinction process that fans continually adjust and monitor worked...