Writing & Research Methods in the 21st Century: Fan Cultures

Course Description

In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by texts—from Jane Austen to The Hunger Games to Doctor Who—which may inspire writing that seems very serious (academic journal articles), very playful (fanfiction), or somewhere in between. How and why do people get so serious about something that appears to be “just for fun”?

For cultural studies researchers, fans’ engagement with popular texts reveals a great deal about what culture is and does.  The artifacts that fans create can illuminate, not only fans’ particular interests, but the culture in which we live. Because fans use writing to engage in many of the activities that help to define them as fans, looking at fan writing is also a good way for us to consider writing in context. Thus, as we consider what fan writing can tell us about the ways that fans form communities and use writing to establish status within a group, we will also attend to how writing does these things in an academic context.

As we study fan cultures, we will learn to ask questions about the intersection among popular texts, passionate consumers of such texts, and society.  Which texts are most likely to attract passionate fanbases? What social hierarchies exist within fandom? How do the creators of cultural products with large fanbases deal with their demanding audiences? What is the legal status of fan activity, and how do social norms support, or fail to support, legal concepts in this context (and vice versa)? As the above questions suggest, we can write about popular culture and the communities surrounding them from many different perspectives: as cultural works, social phenomena, products of new technology and as complicated economic and legal constructs.

This is a library course and will include a significant research component. You will evaluate sources for their usefulness in different contexts as well as more traditional criteria such as reliability. You will examine how authors use sources to form arguments and marshal evidence, and put sources to work for you in similar ways.  You’ll learn to articulate interesting research questions and seek their answers—both through your own writing, and through sources in the library.

Course Documents