Doctoral candidate Helena Louise Dare-Edwards blogs for us about her experience of attending and presenting at the recent Fan Studies Network Conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Institute for the Humanities at UEA.
Kicking off the third annual Fan Studies Network conference (FSN), held this year at UEA, a small group of academics met for drinks on the evening of Friday 26th June. This was a great icebreaker for the weekend ahead and a way to meet with fan scholars you had not met before and reconnect with those you had. It was a really nice addition to the conference schedule!
On the Saturday a much larger group of scholars from all over the world gathered for the first day of FSN. Opening the conference was Suzanne Scott’s keynote, ‘Check Your Fannish Privilege: (In)Visibility Politics and Fan Culture’s War on Women’. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had long been looking forward to hearing this paper, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Scott questioned who is privileged in fan culture and what we as fan scholars privilege in our work, and urged scholars to do their own “privilege checks”. Importantly, Scott also called for a more intersectional understanding of fan identities, that is, for example, intersections of gender with age, race, and class. With the focus in my PhD thesis on the intersection of age and gender, encapsulated in the ‘fangirl’ label, I shared many of Scott’s concerns, and indeed, have been greatly inspired by Scott’s work during my research. I was especially interested in Scott’s notion of ‘spreadable misogyny’ having seen traces of this myself within the fan communities I am researching, and in the idea of fangirls as simultaneously “too much and never enough”, a discourse that I’ve seen echoed in my research into fangirls’ distinction and legitimisation strategies. Presenting on some aspects of these themes later on in the day, the keynote inspired me greatly, as well as it touched on several matters that then reoccurred in other papers throughout the conference.
I presented in the panel on ‘Fan-Producer Relationships’ on Saturday afternoon. Adapted from a chapter of my (soon-to-be submitted) PhD thesis, this was a great opportunity to present some of my doctoral research. Pondering ideas around fangirl hierarchies, I explored the ways in which iCarly fans defend and legitimise their fannish identities, culture, and performances in light of negative cultural constructions of the fangirl, how these shift in the presence of the producer, and the extent to which inter- and intra-fandom distinctions are constructed through pathologising language and around notions of ‘fangirl as pathology’. There were some interesting questions at the end of my panel and many more interesting discussions over breaks throughout the conference. Thank you to everyone who talked to me about my work and the feedback you gave me.
With so many esteemed academics at the conference, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to present. It was a little a lot scary but I was also especially excited, and it was truly an honour to be given the opportunity to present at FSN. The mix of scholars at so many different stages of their careers is one of the many things that makes FSN such a good conference. “Big names” in the field mix with early-career researchers, with PhD students, with MA students. It is a welcoming, supportive atmosphere and the inclusion of the speed-geeking sessions I think is really key in its offer of a somewhat social, un-intimidating space in which to present works in progress and receive (in very quick succession!) a wealth of feedback from academics that span the whole spectrum of development. In fact, the conference as a whole is a great opportunity to learn from each other’s work and present papers to a really diverse crowd, making for really interesting discussions and useful feedback.
I couldn’t hear all the papers and there were some tough decisions to make with regards to which panels to attend: I would love to have gone to the panels on building communities, fandom and celebrity, and methodologies. Of those I did hear (and this is still only a snapshot) I found Eva Wijman’s (Umeå University) paper on Mary-Sue (an original female character that functions as a stand-in of the fan-fiction author in their works) and The Hunger Games particularly interesting. Over the last few years it seems as though more work on youth media and girls’ fandom has begun to emerge, at conferences especially, and I think such work is truly key in the future development and diversification of the field. As young female fans continue to be pathologised by the media and within fan cultures themselves, it is great to see more and more research that seeks to de-pathologise such fans, and take them (and their fan objects) seriously as an important subject of research. In the same way, Ysabel Gerrard’s (University of Leeds) paper on fans of Pretty Little Liars and reimagining guilty pleasures was also of great interest to me, as both scholar and fan. In the same panel, and at the other end of the spectrum, Ruth Deller (Sheffield Hallam University) looked at newspaper representations of mature female fans, who are similarly mocked along gendered lines but positioned as a figure of fun for their more advanced age. Such troubling representations of course highlights the need for fan studies to look ever closer at the ways in which fans are represented in the media and, in this context, to consider intersections of age and gender across generations.
On the final day of the conference, the panel on Endings and Transitions was particularly pertinent to my interests. Last year at FSN, Matt Hills lamented the relative lack of work that engages with beginnings and endings of fandom, so this panel was a great showcase of work that is beginning to theorise endings. Drawing on personal experience, Bridget Kies (University of Wisconsin-Milkaukee) presented a candid and compelling paper that explored the often painful and complex (technologically and emotionally) process of ‘breaking up’ with one’s chosen fandom and posed important questions regarding the position of aca-fans in this context. Rebecca Williams (University of South Wales) and Nicolle Lamerichs (HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht) explored fan texts/objects that are relatively under-represented in the field, looking at theme park fandom and cartoons respectively, while Kee Lundgvist (Uppsala University) considered sense-making practices of Johnlock shippers in the context of a canon relationship that threatened to ‘sink’ their beloved ship. I hope that work continues in this fascinating area of study, and in the future, will come to include more on ‘becoming a fan’ and beginnings of fandom too.
Ending the day was an Ethics workshop, with a panel comprised of some key scholars in this field. It was a really interesting and productive way to end the conference, and brought all delegates back together one last time. Ethics in fan research is no easy subject, but one that we must all endeavor to understand, and indeed, practice. The panelists opened the discussion, before opening up the floor to questions and prompting further debates. It was a really useful session to include in the program, and I hope there might even be a similar one next year. The time practically flew by and I certainly could have sat in there at least another hour or so- it’s such a huge and complex topic. Nevertheless, it was a great place to begin an open and honest dialogue about these difficult issues that I’m sure will continue at other conferences, in the literature, and of course on Twitter, because, if there’s one thing fan scholars are good at, it’s tweeting- we even broke into the top ten of trend topics USA! Matt Hills and Henry Jenkins also stopped by the FSN2015 hashtag to put in their drinks requests for a proposed Hills/Jenkins drinking game… but that’s another story! Roll on FSN2016!
By Helena Louise Dare-Edwards
Helena is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Film, Television and Media at the University of East Anglia, UK. Combining fan studies and girlhood studies, her thesis explores teen-girl fandom from a gender/age perspective.