Participatory Memory: Fandom Experiences Across Time and Space

Navigating the Futures of Participation

Examining the Ianto shrine in 2016, Liza was struck by how the space had not only aged but was also preserved and still active. This curation work, taken up by local supporters and visiting fans, gave a sense of the determination and sustainability of these fan communities and their participation in public spaces. As researchers, this space was the most significant because of how it had evolved and gained support. Unlike most memorials of this kind, which tend to be more transient, the development of the space over the course of the memorial's lifespan has been watched. 

This project seeks to understand, document, and present the ways in which people participate in memory-making activities in public spaces. Through the case studies presented in this book, we sought to describe, analyze, and discuss the activities of individuals, content producers, and space owners. In these spaces, these fans are writing, designing, making, and crafting for their communities. They are building upon their knowledge as fans and working to leave their mark in these spaces of memory. They are asking for certain kinds of experiences in these spaces, ones where they have the agency and access to participate. 

Moving forward, the authors of this book hope that the ways in which these spaces and the methods showcased will be useful to others who seek to explore these spaces as fan scholars, scholar fans, or both. Thus far, this book examined how people memorialize, celebrate, and mourn in physical spaces. This book also looked at how the owners of these spaces reacted; some were more favorable, as in the case of the Ianto memorial and the Harry Potter space at The Elephant House. Hopefully, these methods have created frameworks for this kind of exploration to continue.

However, there is more work to do and more questions to ponder considering participatory spaces of memory. Are these instances wholly unique? Or are they part of a cultural shift in how people participate and memorialize? Certainly, the finds at the these memorials—cooperative spaces across cultures built by fans and maintained by fans—shows that something has shifted. Will these spaces continue to flourish? And what about the connections between physical and digital spaces of memory? Perhaps these instances of sharing online and offline are a part of a larger sea change in the ways that people expect to participate in physical and digital spaces. The authors of this book hope so, given the ways this kind of expression has helped to sustain, uplift, and connect fans all over the world.

Another issue touched on is the idea of what is a “real” vs. a “fake” space for fans. This question of reality and fiction was especially noticeable for the spaces of Harry Potter where fan scholars and scholar fans expect a certain kind of experience that adheres to their understanding of canon. For many fans, canon is the foundation of authenticity. The ways of knowing and communicating in fan spaces are very much tied to expectations of authenticity. More work needs to be done here as fans’ expectations grow and spaces such as these fan kiosks in London and amusement parks dedicated to these fandoms grow and change over time.

These are questions that require further study of fan tourist activities and sites of participatory memory—something that researchers ought to pay attention to and seek to understand both within and beyond fan studies. Fan studies itself is worthy of scholarly study because of fandom's impact on everyday life and on a multibillion dollar entertainment economy. As cultures migrate, expand, and change, knowing how people memorialize, commemorate, and participate will help scholars and stakeholders better understand the ways in which people, as individuals and members of these communities, want to tell the stories of themselves and their communities. To quote from the introduction of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, entitled “Why Study Fans?” and written by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington (2007), “studying fan audiences allows us to explore some of the key mechanisms through which we interact with the mediated world at the heart of our social, political, and cultural realities and identities” (p. 10).

This is an image of the study abroad students from the 2016 trip. The photo was shot right at the beginning of their trip. Now, at the end of this book, the authors of this book firmly believe these students, and others like them, hold the future for work as fan scholars and scholar fans.

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