Coming Soon: Acafandom and Beyond

In the summer of 2007, this blog hosted a rich series of exchanges concerning “gender and fan studies,” which paired male and female researchers together to reflect on the impact that gender had on their work. We are still feeling the impact of these exchanges in terms of new collaborations between researchers and new paradigms for approaching our shared interests.

This summer, the blog is going to host another large scale conversation, this time focused on the concept of the Acafan and the kinds of work this term has done for helping us to sort through our complex emotional and intellectual relationships to our object of study and the equally complicated relationship between our professional lives as fans and who we are in our personal lives. We wanted to expand the concept to bring together people from Game Studies, Critical Race Theory, Performance Studies, Queer Studies, and Gender Studies, who are confronting similar issues surrounding the role of subjectivity and cultural criticism. This time, we are working with groups of three, a number purposefully chosen to avoid binaries and force us to collectively find common ground across a range of perspectives. Each week, we will have three short 500-1000 word provocations coupled with the transcript of an exchange between the three contributors. Public discussion sparked by these provocations will continue at a yet to be designated spot on Live Journal and periodically I will be sharing highlights from this larger public discussion through this blog. We want as many fans, academics, and acafen to weigh in on these topics as possible and will do our part to give you stuff to chew on all summer long.

The discussion has been organized and will be moderated by Kristina Busse, Drew Davidson, Henry Jenkins, Louisa Stein, and Karen Tongson.

This series builds upon a series of exchanges in the Fan Studies world over the past year around the concept of the “Acafan,” including a rich discussion last summer through Jason Mittell’s and Ian Bogost’s blogs, a special issue of FlowTV, and a Society for Cinema and Media Studies panel organized by Louisa Stein. Contributors for the series are also drawn from participants in Drew Davidson’s Well Played books, which offer subjective criticism of computer and video games, and are intended to showcase the launch of the new Postmillenial Pop book series which Karen Tongson and I are co-editing for New York University Press.

Overview

At the heart of the acafan debates has been the question of what aspects of our lived experiences we bring to our work as scholars and critics. All of us, of course, write from many different identities based on race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, generation, ideology, discipline, and cultural preference. The acafan identity, as it has emerged through fan studies, offers a response to accounts of media consumption that in their supposed objectivity were too distanced, too critical, and ultimately pathologizing. The term describes specific relations to our objects of study and draws upon situated knowledge to help explain the contradictions of contemporary popular culture. Acafan scholarship has worked to model a scholarly position that is proximate and impassioned and engaged, but which also is substantive and demanding (in all of the best ways that fan writing can be).

In this discussion we want to expand the questions and the focus to address autobiographical research and the role of the researcher in general. In so doing, we want to look at the ways different fields and disciplines have faced the problem of being invested in and accountable to different aspects of our identity, such as academic and fan. We are interested in the way this can and has affected our research and the way it has affected our intersectional identity. We are also interested in discussing the relationship between forms of academic knowledge creation and presentation and the relation between lived experience and academic work.

As we search for interdisciplinary commonalities, we also want to explore the limitations to the notions and practices of acafandom. Beyond objectivist proponents, who fault acafans for being too close and too engaged, some scholars resist the approach for the way it possibly affords fans special status and forces too much attention on one particular mode of interaction, ignoring other equally important modes of inquiry. Acknowledging and exploring these objections without abandoning the concept of a participatory and vested research with autobiographical self-awareness is central to this conversation.

Provocations

  • [Intersectional identity] How do these identities–as lived, performed, constructed, and embodied–shape what we see, what we study,what we say and who we address through our professional work? What are some of the ways we mobilize these identities within our work and when do they get in the way of the critical distance expected of serious scholarship?
  • [Origins and influences] What does the acafan concept owe to larger debates about the nature of “subjective criticism” in feminism, critical race theory, and queer studies? What has been the contribution of fan studies to these other related fields, or what might fan studies contribute in the future?
  • [Related developments] How might the debates about the acafan concept relate to other debates in connected fields of popular culture studies, such as discussions about the emergence of the “new games journalism” as a means of capturing the subjective experience of players?
  • [Affective investment] These debates historically had to do with the unstable relations between pleasure/affect/the body/desire and politics/identity/power. Do stable or essential terms have the flexibility to respond to this shifting terrain? Have we found a way to talk about pleasure which no longer requires self-reflexivity about our politics?
  • [Acafan as a concept] How have the evolving traditions of acafandom shaped the landscape of which fan practices are studied and which are left invisible? In our increasingly digitized academic public sphere, how do performances of simultaneous academic and fan identities raise both pragmatic and ideological concerns?
  • [The limits of acafandom] Acafandom–be it understood as a cultural and scholarly position or as an interdisciplinary community–has increasingly come under fire from a variety of directions. After more than a decade of use, what do you see as the strengths and limits of the term acafan as a way of characterizing the shared subjectivity between fans and academics? What has the term allowed us to communicate? What mixed messages might it carry? What has it limited our ability to see and to say?
  • [Acafandom as institutional practice] The term acafan emerged from a particular configuration of the relations between fandom and academia, yet the emergence of a new and rather substantial generation of acafans has resulted in some changes in the practices and norms of the academic world. How have the relations between fans and academics shifted over the past decade and how do these changes impact the concepts which acafan was intended to express?

Participants:

  • Christine Bacareza Balance
  • Sarah Banet-Wiser
  • Nancy Baym
  • Gerry Bloustein
  • Will Brooker
  • Jayna Brown
  • Rhiannon Bury
  • Jay Bushman
  • Kristina Busse
  • John Campbell
  • Heather Chaplin
  • Melissa Click
  • Francesca Coppa
  • Drew Davidson
  • Alex Doty
  • Jennifer Doyle
  • Corvus Elrod
  • Sam Ford
  • Nick Fortugno
  • Jonathan Gray
  • Judith Halberstam
  • Karen Hellekson
  • C. Lee Harrington
  • Matt Hills
  • Henry Jenkins
  • Alex Juhasz
  • Flourish Kink
  • Derek Kompare
  • Anne Kustritz
  • Frank Lantz
  • Alexis Lothian
  • Alan McKee
  • Jason Mittell
  • Roberta Pearson
  • Alisa Perren
  • Erica Rand
  • Cornel Sandvoss
  • Suzanne Scott
  • Parmesh Shahani
  • Sangita Shreshtova
  • Louisa Stein
  • Karen Tongson
  • Catherine Tosenberger
  • Matt Yockey

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