Before I review this year’s Fan Studies Network Conference, I’d like to take a moment to signal boost some scholars already doing fantastic work on race in fandom:
- Wanzo, R. (2015). African American acafandom and other strangers: New genealogies of fan studies. Transformative works and cultures, 20, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0699.
- Pande, R. (2018). Squee from the margins: Fandom and race. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.
- Pande, R. (2018). Who do you mean by ‘fan?’: Decolonizing media fandom identity. In Booth, P. ed. A companion to media fandom and fan studies. New York: Wiley Blackwell. p 319-332.
- Woo, B. (2018). The invisible bag of holding: Whiteness and media fandom. In M.A. Click & S. Scott, eds. pp.245-252.
- Warner, K.J. (2018). (Black female) fans strike back: The emergence of the Iris West Defense Sqad. In M.A. Click & S. Scott, eds. pp. 253-261.
- De Kosnik, A. (2018). Filipinos’ forced fandom of U.S. media: Protests against The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives as bids for cultural citizenship. In M.A. Click & S. Scott, eds. pp. 262-270.
- Báez, J. M. (2018). Charting Latinx fandom. In M.A. Click & S. Scott, eds. pp. 271-279.
- Morimoto, L. (2018). Transnational media fan studies. In M.A. Click & S. Scott, eds. pp. 280-288.
- Click, M.A., & Scott, S. (Eds.) (2018). The Routledge companion to media fandom. London: Routledge.
- Stanfill, M. (2018). The unbearable whiteness of fandom and fan studies. In Booth, P. ed. A companion to media fandom and fan studies. New York: Wiley Blackwell. p 305-317.
- Seymour, J. (2018). Racebending and prosumer fanart practices in Harry Potter In Booth, P. ed. A companion to media fandom and fan studies. New York: Wiley Blackwell. pp. 333-347.
The Fan Studies Network Conference 2019 took place this past 28-29 June in Portsmouth, U.K. As usual, there were multiple fascinating panels with a wide range of foci, from fandom across generations, to the particularities of fan labour and copyright, to music fandom and the role of the digital playlist on platforms such as Spotify. However, by far, the recurring theme of this year’s conference asked us, as fan studies scholars and fans, to begin to account for the structural whiteness of our field (and in fandom). This theme came up multiple times throughout the conference—namely in Lori Morimoto’s keynote, the panel on fan methodologies, specifically in Dr. Rukmini Pande’s presentation, and of course the conference fishbowl discussion.
The conference kicked off with Lori Morimoto’s keynote, “What a difference a name makes: Transculturating fan studies,” where she talked about how to move beyond early scholarship’s view of “the fan,” who was often left unmarked in the literature, yet was almost always white, middle class, English-speaking, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, and from the United States or U.K. Lori spoke insightfully and candidly about her own experiences discovering transcultural (and transnational) fandoms, when her family moved to Hong Kong during her teenage years. In that moment, she was faced with a whole different world of entertainment and fandom that has continued to affect how she identifies as both fan and fan scholar.
Her key points about how to do transcultural work are:
- Name Your Subjects: Be specific about the fandom and fans you’re working with. Don’t leave ‘white, middle class’ unmarked.
- Read and Listen Outside of Your Comfort Zone: Read and listen to multiple different fan works and fan research.
- Collaborate: One really important and effective way to overcome language and knowledge barriers in our work is to reach out to fellow fans and fan scholars.
Lori’s keynote set a good precedent for the conference, but it became clear very quickly, as the fishbowl began, that while we might be comfortable discussing transnational fandoms (as well as gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health) as a field, we are not yet sure how to discuss race, or the structured whiteness so many of us not only work within but benefit from.
The room was filled with tension and uncertainty as the fishbowl began. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a fishbowl discussion is where a smaller group of people discuss a topic while an audience looks on. In this case, speakers could leave when they felt ready, and/or agree to make space for new speakers entering from the audience.
I am still not sure this was an ideal format, given the size of the audience and the room. Not to mention that while the use of menti.com allowed for many interesting and important questions to be raised, very few of these were actually addressed during the fishbowl. What’s more, by the time participants became slightly more comfortable with the format, it was already almost time for the discussion to end. Finally, as perhaps might be expected, the majority of participants in the fishbowl (and I count myself among them) were self-identifying as white (with all the complications that alone can bring) and did not, with a few exceptions, address what structured whiteness might be/look like and how it affects them in their daily lives, research, and work. (Again, I’m not without blame here—I did point out that we all had the responsibility of clearly naming our subjects, including when we are working with white, middle class, US-based, English-speaking participants—but I did not have the courage to point out an example.)
However, while there were many issues with the format, as well as some of the questions that were raised, ultimately an important conversation was started this year that I can only hope will continue into future conferences, publications, courses, research topics/proposals, and more. For now, there are some important take-aways that I’d like to highlight here:
- As white scholars, it is our responsibility to begin naming structural whiteness in the fandoms we research and in the work we do. We need not only make it clear what we are studying, but how the structural whiteness of some of these topics affects the participants themselves, as well as other various fandoms. Finally, we need to be prepared to question and critique fandoms’ racist behaviours.
- Moreover, as white scholars, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about race, whiteness, and transcultural fandoms and fan studies by reading widely, and learning how to listen rather than speak.
- We must practice citations politically. We need to cite multiple scholars, including transcultural, transnational scholars of colour. We need to change the fan studies canon.
Finally, importantly, as Rukmini Pande put it during her presentation, “How (not) to talk about race: A critique of methodological practices in fan studies,” (D1):
“Repeat after me, ‘white’ is a racialized identity!”
We’ve got what we need to get started, now it’s time to start.
Before I go, here’s one great resource for interdisciplinary and transcultural work in fan studies: https://airtable.com/shrN9VTKPFLdPOlzI (Made by my lovely colleagues Ludi Price (@LudiPrice) and Nele Noppe (@unjapanologist).