My team at USC is partnering with the fine folks at Transformative Works and Culture to put together a special issue dealing with our current research focus — how we can forge a bridge between participatory culture and civic engagement. Here are the particulars. I am hoping some of you out there are either doing work on this topic or have graduate students who are and might be looking for a common space to publish your work. I am going to be speaking more around these topics at the Fiske Matters Conference and the Games Learning and Society conference this coming week, both in Madison, Wisconsin. Looking forward to seeing some of you there. If you read the blog, be sure to introduce yourself to me. I like meeting people who read — especially at academic conferences.
Transformative Works and Fan Activism
Edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, University of Southern California
How might research on fandom and participatory culture inform our understanding of citizenship and activism? Cultural theorists have long speculated about how our fantasy lives and cultural engagements might inspire broader forms of public participation. In his book Understanding Popular Culture, for example, John Fiske describes one potential route which might lead a young woman from fannish interest in Madonna towards the resources, skills, and identities she needs to contribute to social change. Fan studies have long located localized resistances within the cultural productions and practices associated with fandom, looking at how fan fiction, say, might lead to new understandings of gender, sexuality, and race. Yet there has been less work that examines how these imaginative practices, at times facilitated by digital media, might lead to an enhanced sense of agency or a new vision of social change, or how the skills developed through fandom might be mobilized for getting people out to vote, protesting public policies, or encouraging contributions and volunteerism around emergency situations.
In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins describes how popular culture, and more broadly participatory culture, can function as a civic playground, where lower stakes allow for a greater diversity of opinions than tolerated in political arenas. Jenkins argues, “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, we begin with the premise that participatory culture, like popular culture, encourages active participation, lively discussion, and even mobilization around particular topics and issues, leading to civic engagement. Clearly, a fan group online is apt to be far more diverse in its perspectives than a group defined around, say, a political candidate or a social issue. This is not to suggest that fan communities do not form firm consensus perspectives that block some other ideas from being heard, but they form them around different axes, such as desired sets of romantic partnerships between characters, which may or may not reflect ideological schisms. Our understanding of these synergies between participatory culture and civic participation creates many possible intersections with grassroots activism.
We seek contributions premised on a dynamic understanding of citizenship that will help us understand how participatory culture interactions encourage people to create, discuss, and organize as a way of engaging with specific civic issues and events, and whether (or how) these interactions may lead to new forms of social organizing and action. Researchers have long noted that people who participate in after-school programs or who contribute to the arts are more likely to become involved in other civic activities; we are just starting to understand whether or not interest-driven activities, such as fandom, which typically occur outside of formal educational settings, may have a similar impact on individual trajectories toward public participation. A growing number of groups, such as the Harry Potter Alliance, and specific campaigns, such as Racebending, are seeking to mobilize fans as potential political agents. In the process, these groups may support the development of long-term civic identities as well as the applied skills of fan activism, such as letter-writing campaigns to keep programs on the air. Both are likely to be useful for future civic and movement mobilization.
This special issue emerges from work being done by the Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement Project at the University of Southern California (Henry Jenkins, Principal Investigator).
We seek articles and other work that explores the continuities between online participatory culture and civic engagement, including, but not limited to:
- Case studies of U.S.-based and international fan communities who have moved toward civic engagement (including efforts to protect or promote the fandom, charity efforts, and direct forms of political activism).
- Examples of how practices from fandom and participatory culture are informing more traditional activist organizations and political debates.
- Examinations of how fan discussions flow into more overtly political conversations, with constructive or destructive consequences.
- Interdisciplinary explorations of ways in which participatory cultures may encourage some forms of civic engagement, as well as the possible limitations of such engagement.
- Considerations of how work in fan studies might contribute to ongoing discussions in cultural studies about the relationship between audiences and publics, consumers, and citizens.
- Theoretical discussion relevant to the trajectories that exist between participatory culture and civic engagement.
- Reflections on how a focus on “cultural citizenship” might challenge more traditional definitions of civic engagement.
- Analyses of digital media participatory practices in the context of civic engagement.
- Methodological discussions of how we might study the shifting relationship between participatory culture and public engagement.
- Investigations of how participatory modes of civic engagement intersect with questions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class.
- Mappings of the dynamics of the local and mediated in communities that form around participatory culture in the context of new media technologies.
- Discussions of how fiction and fantasy can captivate us on an emotional level, providing a narrative structure that can motivate us to seek change in the real world.
Writing from fans, independent researchers, community leaders, and practitioners is actively encouraged. We are especially interested in case studies that deal with these fan practices outside of the United States.
TWC accommodates academic articles of varying scope as well as other forms that embrace the technical possibilities of the Web and test the limits of the genre of academic writing. Contributors are encouraged to include embedded links, images, and videos in their articles or to propose submissions in alternative formats that might comprise interviews, collaborations, or video/multimedia works. We are also seeking reviews of relevant books, events, courses, platforms, or projects.
Theory: Often interdisciplinary essays with a conceptual focus and a theoretical frame that offer expansive interventions in the field. Peer review. Length: 5,000-8,000 words plus a 100-250-word abstract.
Praxis: Analyses of particular cases that may apply a specific theory or framework to an artifact; explicate fan practice or formations; or perform a detailed reading of a text. Peer review. Length: 4,000-7,000 words plus a 100-250-word abstract.
Symposium: Short pieces that provide insight into current developments and debates. Editorial review. Length: 1,500-2,500 words.
Submissions are accepted online only. Please visit TWC’s Web site for complete submission guidelines, or e-mail the TWC Editor (editor AT transformativeworks.org).
You are encouraged to contact the guest editors with advance inquiries or proposals:
Henry Jenkins, hjenkins AT usc.edu
Sangita Shresthova, sangita.shresthova AT usc.edu
Contributions for blind peer review (Theory and Praxis essays) are due by April 1, 2011. Contributions that undergo editorial review (Symposium, Interview, Review) are due by May 1, 2011.