The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Ruth Deller & Lucy Bennett (Pt. 2).

Ruth Deller

Interesting that we have both mentioned representation of sports fans. I can't wait to read your chapter on this-I am guessing a lot of this representation would be of male fans? You may or may not be familiar with Carrie Dunn's work on female football fans but she makes interesting points about not only gender and sexism in sport, but the relationship between sports fandom and family, community etc. It's good that there are some more connections being made between sports fandom and other areas of fan studies (I know Richard McCulloch has a lot of interest in this area too), and I think it is an interesting area to think about from the perspective of gender. It seems to me that there are certain types of masculinity bound up in cultural imaginings of sports fans-which are also tied in with notions of race, class, nationality, local identity etc. It's such a potentially fruitful area that offers a lot of interdisciplinarity. That said, my sporting knowledge is incredibly limited - and mainly relates to the 80s and 90s when I grew up alongside a sports-loving brother and I got into football myself for a little while (Up the Mariners!), albeit in a very limited way.

You mentioned my chapter on older female fans in Seeing Fans. I really enjoyed working on that paper and on previous research projects with Cliff Richard fans, almost all of whom were over 60. I was very inspired by the work of people like C Lee Harrington, Denise Bielby and Andy Bennett on fandom in life course. I think we are at a potentially interesting time in terms of thinking about age and fandom. We have those who became fans in the 50s and 60s continuing their fandoms into older age, as well as young fans whose experiences of fandom are almost entirely defined by social media, streaming and other new technologies. Whilst there is now an increasing amount of work on long-standing fandoms and on fandom and the life course, I think there's still a lot of opportunity here in thinking about these issues.

And to bring this back to where I started this section - sport is one of those areas that's heavily tied into life course, with people often developing fandoms as children, or at pivotal points in life journeys (e.g. joining university sports teams)...

Lucy Bennett

Yes, you’ve guessed it! My work on media representations of fans, which ended up primarily focusing on sports fandom, showed that they were very much male dominated. Females were mainly only visible in terms of media, or other forms of fandom. Most of my life, I had no interest in sports, but in recent years really became interested in athletics, football, and rugby (and this stemmed from a very vibrant experience watching a game in a pub in Cardiff one day!). These interests made me think about how much of this ties into nationality, identity, gender, and so on.. and not only within the self, but, as you point out, within media representations as well. Depictions of emotion and gender is something in particular I would like to explore more fully, since very often it is accepted more in terms of men at sports games (through the notion of it being passion), whereas females at music concerts expressing emotion is more frequently depicted as out of control irrationality. This polarity is something I would like to explore in more depth.

I also find it particularly interesting how sports was the predominant genre of fandom portrayed in the media in the ten year sample I studied, yet it remains at the margins of what I know as the fan studies field, which has focused more on media/popular culture fandom and been markedly divided from sports studies. I hope each year that at the Fan Studies Network conference that we will receive more (or even just some) abstracts on sports fandom, but we don’t receive many. I’m really interested in these different spheres of fan studies converging with media fan studies. To me, it makes the field so much richer.

Work on lifelong fandom, and the course that people take during their lives with their fan objects, is something that also draws me. I’m particularly in interested in how this manifests and develops surrounding music fandom. As I mentioned in Part One, music is a huge passion to me, and there were two pivotal points in my life where I discovered music that had a profound impact on me: when I was 6, and when I was 14. It is fascinating to me how my relationship changes with the music I discovered at these points in my life as I grow older, but also through technology, and, more recently, returning to the material object. I recently purchased a vinyl player, and have been reliving moments and memories from revisiting some of the albums I originally owned on vinyl in the 80s and 90s (luckily I kept them all!). So what compels me at the moment is not only our relations with these fan objects through our lives, but also how medium and/or technology may enhance, guide, or provoke this. 

This leads me to something that I specifically also wanted to discuss with you: what are your impressions of music fandom and related scholarship at the moment? I’ve really enjoyed your projects on mature female music fans in the media, and the work on Cliff Richards fans. Do you have any plans to continue your work in this area?


How do I feel about the state of pop music fandom research? That’s a very interesting question. I think what I notice most is how disparate it is. By that, I mean that research into pop music fans, audiences and subcultures has always been somewhat interdisciplinary. There is a tradition in media and cultural studies, which is often where fan studies sits most comfortably, but there is also work in music studies, youth studies, sociology etc. This means that the scholarship is spread out in terms of its visibility in journals, at conferences and so on. Whilst obviously there are advantages to this and there are historical, discipline-related reasons why this is so, it can be quite frustrating because it feels as though the conversations could be more joined up.

If I go to a fan studies conference or panel, there is a very good chance I will encounter work on sci-fi or fantasy fan cultures. However, I suspect there is a slim chance there will be papers covering grime fans or reggae fans. That research is out there-but it is not necessarily joining up to work that more clearly identifies as ‘fan studies’. I think, to some extent, this possibly touches on issues we’ve already been raising of race, nationality and class, as well as disciplinary backgrounds.

Of course, there are some areas of pop music fandom that are highly visible within spaces clearly marked out as ‘fan studies’ (by this I’m mainly referring to edited collections, conferences and journals that are specifically focused on fandom). One Direction fans, for example, received a huge amount of attention-I see similar occurring with K-pop and, from time to time, work on other popstars (Bowie, Gaga, Beyoncé) or rock music.

I would love to see more interdisciplinary conversations about fandom in general, actually. There is so much history in, for example, subcultural research, yet work on subcultures now seems to have be less visible within fan studies, although it still thrives in other disciplines.  Many subcultures – including sport, to bring it back to our earlier conversation - clearly still have fandom as a core component.

In terms of if I want to work more with older female fans- I’d love to do more in that area. 2020 is the 20th anniversary of my first work with the Cliff Richard fans, for example, so I’m hoping to do a follow-up project with them.  The 10-year study threw up some really interesting results, particularly about the influence of social media, and since then, streaming services have become huge, so I am interested to see if that’s impacted them (as well as the recent controversy involving Cliff, of course). This connects in to your points about technology, I think.  The relationship between age, technology and fandom is fascinating in itself.  Oh, and I just filmed an interview with some Duran Duran fans who are making a documentary about their fandom.  It was fun working with them – they asked more complex questions than I get even from academics!

There seems to be a bit of a media appetite for looking at older fandoms and subcultures. In the UK, the channel BBC Four has made dozens of documentaries on music cultures.  (In fact, there was one on the Bay City Rollers just last week). I suspect there are a lot of audience members and a lot of people working in the media who were part of music scenes in the 60s and 70s, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that there is a huge fascination with the music scenes of that era. Whilst there is some work in fan studies on Baby Boomer fans as well as Gen X/Millennial/'Gen Z' fans, what I would love to see is something that brings together research on fans from various generations, so everything from children to the elderly.

And here I pass back to you for your thoughts before I talk myself into putting an edited collection together on this! (Would people be interested in getting involved in that?)


Yes, the disparateness of music fandom scholarship is quite striking. At times, this can be so beneficial in that it allows many different perspectives, but it also does feel fractured at times. I’ve really enjoyed Mark Duffett’s work on music fandom – his special issues of Popular Music & Society, and the conferences he has organised really pull together some of the corners where music fandom is sometimes dispersed and situated.

I would be absolutely fascinated in seeing your Cliff Richard fan study updated! I think it would make such a valuable contribution to scholarship. There is so much within this fandom that would be compelling – from lifelong fan courses, to adoption of technology, to fan support during acts of controversy. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the 20th anniversary of that! I also hope to one day revisit and update my work on R.E.M. The forum that I studied has now been closed, but I recently did a chapter for Rebecca William’s forthcoming collection on fandom and endings, exploring how R.E.M. fans and their official news channel use social media now that the band have split, especially to piece their collective memories together. It is very interesting as, at times, their news platform is equally, or even more, active than when they were still together! But, returning to a field of study at a much later time period, is something that draws me. We have so many new technical advances, but it’s not clear cut surrounding how fans negotiate these, and so comparative studies across a long period, I think, could be quite a revealing way of unravelling their practices.

Sorry to add to your workload, but I for one would love to see an edited collection on the areas that you mentioned – generational fandom and music would be so compelling! You’re right, there is quite a trend on BBC Four (which I love) on documentaries and programmes that focus much on 60s and 70s music. While I do enjoy these, there is a gap there for explorations of other generations. Being a fan of music when I was so young myself, I would love to see more studies on children and music fandom. I feel that the music I was engaged with then, and the music magazine that I loved (Smash Hits) really worked to forge my identity as I grew older. In a way, the lyrics and sounds I was exposed to, and the interviews I was reading, strongly boosted my internal ideas and senses of what was possible in life. I would like to see work that examines fans at this early age, and others that speak to more mature fans at later stages in life, to explore how looking back on a life may be intertwined with music, fandom, and memory. It’s all such an interesting avenue, and one which offers quite a few areas that have not been interrogated much before in fan studies.

For me, I’m also quite drawn to technology and how this may (nor may not) impact on experiences and behaviours of music fans. I find two polarities quite fascinating: in our contemporary landscape we have a multitude of streaming services, but also a turn now back to the material object, such as vinyl and cassettes, both of which can be steeped in nostalgia. Secondly, we have Twitter and other social media platforms, that offers what has been described as a “direct connection” between musicians (and, obviously, other public figures) and fans, yet often a negotiation has to occur surrounding how can these connections can be maintained and realised, when some individuals have potentially millions of people following them. So I think there is so much within music fandom to explore!

Lastly then, what are you next plans within fan studies research (and even perhaps teaching)? We’ve discussed some of pressing areas that we feel need more attention within the field, but are there any other significant things that you hope are worked towards within fan studies in 2018?


Ha, I was actually thinking about Mark Duffett’s work after sending my last message to you!  I suspect the thing with documentaries will inevitably lead to more on the 80s and 90s as time progresses, though you’re right that it’d be good to see multiple generations’ interests served at the same time. Side note, but I am LOVING the 1980s Top of the Pops repeats we get on BBC Four – that was weekly viewing in my house growing up, and I was also obsessed with Smash Hits!  Kind of a shame today’s kids/teens don’t have those – I would love to see more work with children on how they come to music fandom now, in fact.  I remember being utterly mesmerised seeing Boy George on TOTP in the early 80s and he was probably the first pop star I had any kind of fan attachment to, albeit in a very loose pre-school kind of way!

I would love to see you revisit your work on R.E.M. (and Lady Gaga too, for that matter).  We’re coming up to 30 years of the web (and longer still for things like usenet) so there’s a lot of potential for histories of online fandoms – and technology is really intriguing for me as it relates to fandoms like R.E.M. and Cliff Richard that were forged before the web and thus have been online for a very long time now, across many changes and developments. 

The physical pull to vinyl and cassettes is super interesting, both in terms of nostalgia for those of us that owned them before, and in terms of them being discovered by younger audiences.  Personally I prefer the convenience of having everything available to me digitally – but I still purchase on CD and own most of my old vinyl and cassettes still (save a handful of tapes lost when I had a car stolen) – like many fans, I feel a connection to the artefact as much as to the music itself.  Are you thinking of writing something on this area? 

In terms of my own work in regards to fan studies, I have a couple of things about to come out, a piece (with Stuart Bell) on EastEnders fans in Rebecca Williams’ Everybody Hurts book, and a chapter on ethics in fan studies in Paul Booth’s new edited collection.  I’m also working on trying to bring together some threads from various research I’ve been involved in on gaming fans, beauty fans and soap opera fans around what happens at the intersections between fans, producers and texts.  There are some interesting tensions and challenges around things like fan labour, fan servicing, fan expectations and inter-fan rivalries as well as issues such as customer service, PR and marketing.  I’m still playing around with my data and with the literature to see what I can pull out… but what that will all become is as yet unknown!  I have a few (non-fan studies) projects to put to bed first.  Oh, and now perhaps an edited collection or special issue on music fandom and generations.  You’d have to write something for it though!

It’s been really interesting thinking about these different areas within fan studies with you.  There are still lots of opportunities to explore ground that hasn’t yet been covered enough within fan studies.  For me one thing that comes through from our exchanges has been a sense of wanting more interdisciplinary conversations - e.g. in areas like sport, music and art.  I can see real potential for the discipline to grow more diverse in its ‘figureheads’ (and in the fandoms it covers) in areas such as race, nationality and age.  I think there’s still so much more that can be said about gender and class as well. 

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m down on fan studies though – there’s an amazing variety of work out there now – we see so many nuanced studies and so much methodological richness.  I think fan studies has also been an area where a lot of younger scholars have been finding a space, and long may that continue.  Organisations like the Fan Studies Network and the Organisation for Transformative Works are doing a fantastic job in terms of bringing people together and trying to broaden conversations, and that’s so exciting.  In the 20 years since I began my undergrad studies, I’ve seen the discipline make huge leaps and I think that’s partly because it attracts people who are so passionate about what they do (unsurprisingly!).


Yes, it feels so prominent to me too that from our discussions what has stood out quite sharply is the need for more connective work between certain areas, such as sports, and music, with media fandom. The need for more diverse ‘figureheads’ and more conversations and studies on race, nationality, and age is also crucial. Plus I agree – more interrogation of gender and class and their convergence with fandom should also occur. At least, on the whole, more discussions are occurring, which can often be the first steps towards change.

I’m also absolutely loving the BBC Four Top of the Pops repeats, too! It really takes me back, as many of these, from 1985, I can remember watching at the time. In tandem with the resurgence of material music formats, I find these nostalgic notions (and also, how they may proceed in years to come) really compelling. I also stream a lot of music, but lately I’ve also been buying a hard copy of anything I enjoy that I have found whilst streaming, which I then place onto my iPod! So quite a mixture of formats. Cassettes will also have a huge place in my heart, and it’s wonderful to see so many newer albums being released in this format, too.

With regards to my future work, looking at materiality, fandom, and music is something that stands out to me. I’m launching a new undergraduate module this autumn semester at Cardiff University on Popular Music, Media, and Culture, which is a dream come true for me! I’ve also recently become more immersed in the Cardiff music scene. So I’m hoping all of this will give me further impetus to do more research surrounding music fandom. Aside from the chapter on R.E.M. fandom, social media, and memory that I have forthcoming in Rebecca William’s Endings collection, I have a chapter in Paul Booth’s Wiley Blackwell companion (which takes the form of the media representation of fans study that I mentioned earlier), and an auto-ethnography on never having watched Star Wars, for Billy Proctor and Richard McCulloch’s forthcoming collection.  Otherwise, I plan to do more work on politics and fandom, extending the Lady Gaga work I did a few years ago, in tandem with my non-fan studies work looking at citizens and media. Plus something for your new music fandom and generations collection, of course J!

I’ve really enjoyed our exchanges, and it’s interesting that it’s also been roughly 20 years since I started my undergrad studies too… it’s been fascinating reflecting on together, not only how the fan studies field has developed, but how we have both forged our path and found our way and interests through these 20 years. Although there is some way to go with regards to some areas that crucially demand more conversations and development, I think fan studies is such a vibrant area that I’m so proud and thrilled to be a part of. There is some amazing and inspiring work being done at present. I’m now very excited for the next 20 years – bring it on!