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Textual PoachersIn addition to having one of the best covers in all of fan studies, Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins is one of the core texts in the discipline. There's a good reason for that; half the time, when I'm struggling to articulate an idea, I go back through the book and discover that he's already said what I wanted to - and more eloquently than I had been able to.

This passage was one of those times. I must have seen it before - I've read the whole book cover to cover - but it fit so perfectly with the things I was already thinking that I promptly forgot it wasn't entirely my idea to begin with. It was only when I was rereading Textual Poachers in preparation for starting this part of my research that I rediscovered the quote and realized that it said a lot of the things I had wanted to say. (And this is why we go back and re-read our sources. Because inadvertent plagiarism will still get you in a lot of trouble with the review board when it comes time to defend your thesis).

My original genius plan had been to use this quote as a springboard for explaining the technicalities of my methodology - what exactly I am going to be doing with this journal and how it is part of my research. But instead it seems to have to morphed into a sort of mission statement; a philosophy of my research rather than an explanation for it.

The technical post will come later, but for now, have this:

"...I feel a high degree of responsibility and accountability to the groups being discussed here. I look at my fellow fans as active collaborators in the research process. My practice from the outset has been to share each chapter with all of the quoted fans and to encourage their criticism of its contents. I have received numerous letters from fans, offering their own insights into the issues raised here and I have learned much from their reactions. I have met with groups of fans in open discussions of the text and have incorporated their suggestions into its revision. In some cases, I have inserted their reactions into the text, yet, even where this has not occurred directly and explicitly, it must be understood that this text exists in active dialogue with the fan community. I have not always been successful in locating fans and they have not always responded to my inquiries. Many fan artifacts circulate anonymously, originating in the community at large, defeating easy efforts to pin down authorship. I have always made an effort (though I have a pile of returned envelopes on my desk) and beg forgiveness for any oversights that might have occurred in this lengthy and complicated process. I still welcome fan comments on this work and hope that this process will continue after this book has seen print." (Jenkins 1992: 7).


Unlike Textual Poachers and the vast majority of fan scholarship, the core of my dissertation is not so much about the primary activities of fandom; there are already enough studies of how fans use and process and respond to media texts, enough books about the ethos and culture and activities that comprise fandom. Instead, my interest is in the self-analytical aspects of meta discourse: how a group of people already united by their use and processing and response to texts then grapple with the meaning, shape, and realities of what they are doing and who they are doing it with. In essence, my dissertation is about how fan conversation creates alters, and perpetuates fandom.

So my focus is actually less on fan artifacts themselves and what they mean, and more on meta - or, really, on the meta of meta. I want to talk about fans talking about fandom. I want to talk to fans about how they think and feel about what they do as fans, rather than how they think and feel about what they are fans of. I want to talk to fans about how they think and feel about what other fans do. I want to talk about memes, about how fanon is created and how it can be more powerful and lasting than canon. I want to talk about gif sets and graphics and how fans hold each other responsible and support each other as participants in and creators of the spaces in which they meet. I want to talk about fan policing and the tensions between canon-compliant and canon-deviating fan creations.

Basically, fans are amazingly articulate about the things they love, but I'm not here to talk about the things fans love. I'm here to talk about fans.


That being said, the tools I have for clarifying authorship and the ownership of ideas and for finding fans and allowing them to speak for themselves aren't much more sophisticated than the ones Jenkins used twenty years ago. I must and will do everything I can to achieve the greatest degree of clarity and fairness - but as people of the Internet, you understand exactly how hard that is. It is one thing to be able to use google image searches and find the creator of a piece of fan art - it's another thing entirely to find out who started a meme, where the base image under an icon's text came from, or what works a fanon concept originated in (that last being both amazingly on point and entirely irrelevant to it). I will never be able to identify the authors of all seemingly-anonymous or collective fan artifacts, but I will always make the attempt - and, by trying, I can at least learn something about how those artifacts are used, adapted, and discussed.

Figuring out how to make this process and the final dissertation as fair and representative as possible is going to be a difficult and ongoing process - but, like Jenkins, I think that opening an active conversation with the fan community is the best place to start. That's what this journal is for. It is going to be both a part of my research process and a record of that process - a tool for interacting with fans and participating in the fan community, and a place where I can ask questions and start discussions, where I can review fannish and academic texts, where I can talk about my ideas, my dissertation, or my life as a postgrad more generally.

Each chapter of my dissertation will be made available on this blog as I finish them, and I invite you to comment on both the text and the contents. Tell me when you agree, when you disagree, when you're confused. Let me know if you think I've misunderstood something, when you think I've credited the wrong person, when there's an important point I seem to have missed. Send me links when you think you have a better example than the one I'm currently using - or just let me know the example is out there. I also welcome unsolicited suggestions or insights related to the themes and issues I am exploring here; if there's something you think I should be talking about, something you think I should read, let me know.

I will do everything in my power to give people a chance to speak to themselves - even more than Jenkins', my work hinges on it, because what I'm studying is how fans speak for themselves. But there are limits to what I can do by myself. So I'm asking you - if this is important to you, or even just interesting, help me out. Link me your meta, link your friends to me, drop me a PM, ask me questions. Engage.

Thank you.
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