YDME: When Fans Become Activists


How might research on fandom and digital participatory culture inform our understanding of citizenship and youth activism? Cultural theorists have long speculated about how our fantasy lives and cultural engagements might inspire broader forms of public participation, and fan studies have long identified localized and individualized resistances, looking at how reading and writing fan fiction, say, might lead to new understandings of gender, sexuality, and race. Yet there has been less research examining how these imaginative practices might lead to an enhanced sense of agency or how the skills developed through fandom might be deployed for getting young people out to vote, protesting public policies, or encouraging volunteerism around emergency situations. In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins describes how popular culture, and more broadly participatory culture, can function as a civic playground: “One way that popular culture can enable a more engaged citizenry is by allowing people to play with power on a microlevel… Popular culture may be preparing the way for a more meaningful public culture.” Building on these observations, this panel explores the premise that the connectivities and collectivities associated with participatory culture may foster civic engagement. Participants in this session will be encouraged to share examples of fan activism, case studies of U.S.-based and international fan communities who have sought to bring about social, political and cultural change (including efforts to protect or promote the fandom, charity efforts, and direct forms of political activism) and examples of how more traditional activist organizations are borrowing new tactics and rhetoric from the realm of participatory culture. How have these new forms of cultural politics supported new participants in the political process, providing them with the skills and orientations they need to make a difference? What kinds of organizational structures have emerged around fan activism? What relations exist between traditional forms of activism and these new consumer/fan-oriented efforts? What media strategies have emerged that respond to the grassroots productivity and social networks associated with youth and fandom?