Participatory Memory: Fandom Experiences Across Time and Space

Engaging Harry Potter

This case study focuses on how fans celebrate, interact with, and constantly revive spaces dedicated to Harry Potter. This fandom has an enduring presence, extending well beyond the book launches and film premieres. 

While there are many commercial spaces devoted to Harry Potter, there are also a steadily growing number of fan-made spaces. Although fan-made spaces aren’t a new phenomenon, the dedication fans have in keeping these spaces alive is a testament to the longevity of the fandom itself.

Part of what we found in the Harry Potter spaces had us questioning the concepts of “real” vs. “fake” spaces for fans of fictionalized worlds. For a fan, a real space is one that adheres to canon. Authenticity is connected to the adaptation of the fan experience in a given space. For fans, this authenticity—this connection to canon—is essential for a “real” experience. We acknowledge that this concept of “real” and “fake” spaces is bound to a reality in which the concept of “real” refers to a fictionalized world. In his work on fan cultures and pilgrimages, Roger C. Aden (1999) reflects on this issue, noting that “we require a theory that sees fan encounters with popular stories as a communicative experience in which we are centered selves able to move symbolically, in a variety of ways, to communities that provide an alternative to historical habitus” (p. 79). Through our lenses as fan scholars and scholar fans, we have both taken up this alternative sense of reality, considering the “real” to be spaces that adhere to canon. This section provides one way to construct a theory of how this communicative experience operates through participatory memory in fan spaces.

This case study makes the claim that the act of marking a canonical physical space is a way for fans to establish their fan identity, contribute to the fandom, and sustain the fan culture of Harry Potter. By participating in these spaces, fans are able to not only connect with canon, but to transcend the pages of the books or the scenes of the films to forge new experiences within their fandom.

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