Power in fandom

July 9th, 2008 by Laura Leave a reply »

I had a conversation yesterday with some one doing something similar to what I’m doing. One of the things we talked about was the new power structures. He talked about it in the context of business and I talked about it in the context of fandom as it pertains to fan fiction communities.  For this post, I’m defining power as the ability to influence  beyond your  personal sphere and the subcommunities which members of fan fiction fandom belong to.

My perspective on this in fan fiction fandom is skewed based on my involvement… but the way I see it is that older power structures, in the pre-Internet days, were based on two variables: Access to TPTB and Capability of getting things done coupled with information brokering. If you had one or the other, you had some power in fandom and you had standing in fandom. By the time that authors were creating mailing lists for their readers to follow them and LiveJournal (and blogging) became popular in parts of fandom, the power structure was perceived as changing. For the first time, it really looked like content creators were in charge and they were using this ability to leverage their position in fandom relative to the creators. A number of fan fiction writers got behind and pushed several projects to the forefront. This was the case for Fiction Alley, a Harry Potter fan fiction site. Writers leveraged their popularity in order to help get book deals.

But the power structure, briefly in the hands of fan fiction writers changed again. Or rather, it became apparent that when fan fiction writers had the chance to leverage their position, they didn’t do it and their lack of action made the fact that doers were really the more powerful force more apparent. The fan fiction community seemed to have turned back in on itself, sought recognition and power from with in the existing community rather than courting outsiders. They didn’t effectively engage and demand changes from the people who control the services they used that were inside fandom, nor outside fandom. Parts of the fan fiction community had the same problems with engaging information brokers: They didn’t or didn’t do so effectively.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong with having failed to engage. People have different priorities and different needs. They get different things out of fandom and there are vested interests, legitimate ones, in keeping fan fiction out of the spotlight. If you engage, if you lobby, if you demand, you risk attention which can run counter to your needs and concerns.
Fandom outside of the fan fiction community seemed to get the concept

Now, the fan fiction community appears to be back the spot where it was pre-Internet. The power is in the hands of doers who are capable of acting as information brokers or those who have access (or ARE) the powers that be. These are the folks most likely to engage outside of the circle of fandom where they are and have the most influence and the most power in fandom. Those who fail to do that, those who chose to engage only in a small narrow community, aren’t going to be perceived as powerful in fandom by other fans with whom they interact or those who are in the power to know. The information brokers, the doers aren’t as visible and don’t necessarily need to be because they can instead me known for their product instead. And the product will be seen and is seen as the new power structure in fandom.

Thus end my incoherent thoughts on fandom and power.

  • Okay, thanks. The intricacies of motivation (in fan work as well as in other "hobby" oriented community activity) are something we need to know more about :-)

    Of course I speak from an economical perspective, with a belief that what's economically feasible or attractive, will also enable or empower specific actions aimed at utilizing these economical opportunities.

  • Fandom has a lot of students in it on a variety of level. That particular group can be more or less aware of the power structure and what it means to them. If you're in certain circles, it just isn't relevant because WHO CARES as long as you get what you want out of it... and if one service isn't, you can always go elsewhere.

    That said, I don't think that people's need to work necessarily changes their type of engagement. I know plenty of people who work full time and are involved in fandom all across the economic ladder and age level.

  • Interesting... And thanks for the chat :-)

    One question : In your opinion, does the fact that fan fiction writers or others engaged in fan communities "have to work for money" (as in comparison to, say, writers who are already published, who can live from their writing) so to speak, have effects on their level of engagement and committment to their communities?

    My hypothesis is, roughly speaking, that students and old people have lots of time to engage in hobbies and online communities. People with daytime jobs have much less time. As the global amount of transactions being made online increases, there will be a bigger cut for online agents and filters, as well as for people actively engaged in, say, fan fiction.

    What remains to be done, then, is to improve the architectures which makes online transactions even easier and more convenient to do, and to improve the filtering methods which makes it possible to find what one is looking for (or find what one isn't even aware one was really looking for). These two things will empower peers and online communities even more.

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