Participatory Memory: Fandom Experiences Across Time and Space

Understanding Participatory Memory

Memory is powerful.  The ways in which we construct it and circulate it within our communities through narratives is how we make meaning of the world around us. In his book How Societies Remember, Paul Connerton (1989) states that “if there is such a thing as social memory, we are likely to find it in commemorative ceremonies” (p. 71). It is these ceremonies of fan participation that create the social memories documented in this digital book. By visiting these spaces, writing in these spaces, and participating in these spaces, fans are able to create social memory for their microcultures—their fandoms.

Within various popular fandoms, fans have created spaces to discuss, share, and dissect their favorite topics. Understanding the ways in which these fans are either supported in or prohibited from participating by content producers, space owners, and governments can point to issues of engagement, agency, authority, and experience for fans and the fandoms they seek to support. Stepping through time and space, we can trace how social and political movements brought us to a moment where participatory culture and collective memory are now intersecting. This moment is happening in the way fans are looking to connect through their shared love of a particular character or show, creating shared understandings of values, mores, and memes. In similar ways to the experiences of Heather Lettner-Rust, Larissa Smith Fergeson, and Michael Mergen (2016), our students were engaged as “citizens of the community,” transforming their understanding of participatory memory  “from something unitary or scribed by institutional sources to something that is contested, multiple, and fragmentary” (p. 47-48).  

Drawing on research in writing studies, fan studies, and memory studies, this digital book project works to give insights to scholars in writing studies and experience architecture (a new area of study focused on how we research, create, and develop experiences in digital and physical environments). Focusing on material rhetorics and experiences in the built environment, each case study can help scholars explore how fans participate in these memory-making activities, how governments and content producers resist or support this participation, and how we can create environments for fan-focused experiences. 

This work also has great meaning for us as educators. Such meaning is explored by Julia A. Bosker (2016) in her work on public memorials, where she suggests this work can help us understand “what do people do with public memory?” while helping our students enhance “their understanding of the past, present, and future” so that they can help “reshape how the public will remember” (p. 158). By visiting these spaces and places and doing this kind of research, we are preparing our students to be positive, engaged members of our society and the fandoms they explore.

These intersections in fields and narratives can show us how to expand current theories in writing studies and experience architecture to facilitate memory-making in these spaces. As we explore in the following section, we hope that this examination will encourage readers to dig deeper into our sources and continue to explore.

Intersecting Fields and Narratives

Over the course of this project, we pulled from various fields to better understand what we were investigating and how we ought to address our finds in these spaces. To situate memory studies, we relied heavily on work in collective memory from both memory studies and rhetoric. To understand issues of generational tribute, interactivity, and participation, we looked at research in participatory culture. To sift through the images and artifacts in these spaces, we read scholarship in visual rhetoric. To understand the whole of these experiences, we considered work in experience architecture—by which we mean user experience and service design from the perspective of the humanities. Below is a brief tour of what we reviewed with a suggestion for our readers to examine these works more closely in their own studies. 
You will note the emphasis on fan studies. We chose to take a deeper dive into that area of research to support writing studies and experience architecture scholars as they learn more about the work in this digital book project. To situate the discussion below, we want to draw attention to Henry Jenkins et al.'s (2009) definition of participatory culture as having:

1) relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
2) strong support for creating and sharing creations with others
3) some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed on to the novices
4) members who believe that their contributions matter, and
5) members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).  (p. 50)

This definition is key to our understanding of participation, one half of our phenomenon of study in this digital book project. We agree with Barbie Zelizer’s (1995) position that “to remember is defined as the ability to recount something that happened in the past” (p. 214). Taken together, we see participatory memory as an activity where participants engage in memory-making activities across digital and physical spaces. These definitions are important to reflect upon as you move through the brief literature review below.

Writing Studies

The analysis in this digital project was deeply rooted in writing studies, focused on how people used text, images, and materials to construct their identities as fans and follow the genre conventions of their fandom. 

In order to prepare for discussions with study abroad researchers and the coauthors of this book, we returned to Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior’s (2004) edited collection, What Writing Does and How It Does It. Rethinking Bazerman’s work on intertextuality helped us understand levels of meaning in the fan texts we analyzed. In thinking about fan writing and making in these memory spaces, his assertion that “we create our texts out of the sea of former texts that surround us, the sea of language we live in” is evident in what we found (p. 83). Anne Wysocki’s (2004) research on the multiple media of texts helped situate the different kinds of participation we were seeing online and in physical spaces. Her work also helped create ways of analyzing and seeing writing in fan spaces that were helpful for our students and a good reminder for Liza. Paul Prior’s (2004) piece on tracing writing processes helped us consider how we might relate to our data as fan scholars and scholar fans. He notes that this tracing “also means tracing the inner thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and motives of the writer(s) as well as tracing exchanges (spoken or written) between people, exchanges in which the content and purposes of a text may be imagined or planned” (p. 167). We tangle with these concepts throughout the case studies. Reading these works with David M. Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo, and Anthony J. Michel’s (2012) The Available Means of Persuasion helped us rethink prior work on this project with regards to the evolving ways in which fans have expressed themselves in these spaces over time.

Specifically examining visual rhetoric and multimodality, we read to broaden our understanding of what students encountered in online fandoms and how fans participated in physical spaces. Working over the years, we found ourselves returning to several sources that were useful to our research group. Carolyn Handa’s (2004) edited collection Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World provided some classic pieces that are approachable for our undergraduates. Specifically, the snippet of Scott McCloud’s work on comics and meaning was useful as we analyzed fan art left in these spaces. Much of what we found in these spaces pointed to specific symbols, characters, and inside jokes of these fandoms. Most recently, Laurie Gries’ (2015) work, Still Life with Rhetoric, helped us work through questions we had about the images and writings we found in participatory memory spaces. In particular, her emphasis on issues of spatiality and materialism were useful for us as we worked through creating and analyzing larger scale spaces in Wales and France.

While not directly related to the cases in this digital book, the following readings were influential and required more study. Michael Salvo’s (1999) work on trauma and representation gave us insights into memorials and visual rhetoric. Scholarship focused on feminist geographies (McDowell, 1999; Propen, 2012) seeks to understand these spaces and material rhetorics through a diverse lens. 

Taken together, these pieces were useful in helping us work through the visuals we were encountering in these spaces.

Memory Studies

To explore collective memory, we read from different scholars researching memory studies. Zelizer’s 1995 and 1998 works on collective memory studies were foundational works for those of us studying rhetoric, narrative, and memory. Her work on Holocaust studies and collective memory formed the baseline for us to examine spaces of memory. Her 1995 work is an excellent overview, discussing issues of memory and space, materiality of memory, and her suggestions to create boundaries around our definitions of collective memory so that it does not become a useless term.  A major takeaway for this project is her work on memory and space with regards to collective memory and nationalism. The idea that “the relationship to space often reconfigures remembering in distinctly unanticipated ways” speaks to the writing and crafting activity we have seen at many sites of participatory memory (p. 221). It may also account for issues of “real” and “fiction” in these spaces.

To think through ideas of cognition, memory, and imagery, we examined scholarship from philosophy. In On Collective Memory from Maurice Halbwachs and Lewis Coser (1992), the chapter “The Localization of Memories” was particularly helpful in understanding how individual memory can be associated with collective memory. They discuss how what happens to us individually is confined and bound to a larger collective narrative. We also read selections from The Collective Memory Reader, an edited collection from Jeffrey Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy (2011), which looks at memory studies from Edmund Burke to contemporary theorists. Of particular use to rhetoricians are the sections on the concepts of canon and archives by Aleida Assmann, museums as memory-making spaces by Theodor Adorno, and film and popular memory by Michel Foucault. This scholarship was valuable for framing our understanding of how these concepts have evolved over time. All three pieces connected to our readings on visual rhetoric and helped us have a foundation of understanding for delving into the scholarship below.

Rhetoric scholars have made a considerable contribution to this area of study. Of particular interest was the recent collection Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form, edited by Anne Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian (2012). Several of the chapters pose interesting questions above memory and space, but one specific piece in this collection is of particular interest to those of us studying visual rhetoric, experience architecture, and spaces of memory. Margaret Ewing’s work on Berlin and Holocaust memory delivers a case study of memorial writing and art as memory-making activities. She notes that these activities create an “exposition of space” and discusses how “these independent projects center on the private narratives that comprise an otherwise incomprehensible history” (p. 34). 

Another important collection by rhetoricians is Kendall R. Phillips’ Framing Public Memory (2004). In particular, Phillips’ introduction problematizes the idea of a fixed and stabilized collective memory. He positions memory as living, dynamic, fluid, and contestable. He states that “this sense of ‘living’ memory is in stark contrast to a sense of a fixed, singular history, suggesting that societies are both constituted by their memories and, in their daily interactions, rituals, and exchanges, constitute these memories” (p. 2). Such a definition is apparent to fan scholars and scholar fans in these memory spaces. In his chapter “Public Memory in Place and Time,” Edward S. Casey speaks directly to the work in our case studies. He works through the traits of public memory, noting that it is temporal: “public memory is both attached to a past (typically an originating event of some sort) and acts to ensure a future of further remembering of that same event” (p. 17). Fans are often creators of these memory spaces, and they hope to see them sustained into the future. Through sustaining the space, they sustain their fandom. Furthering this argument of time and memory, Bradford Vivian speaks of the importance of repetition. We can see this repetition in the ways in which memes are repeated in the writing and making at fan memorials, with catchphrases, lines from stories and films, and fan art creating a collective investment in the fandom and the space.

In the edited collection Pedagogies of Public Memory (2016), several pieces were useful for us as we reflected back on the study abroad and our work in these memory spaces. In particular, Deborah Mix’s chapter on vernacular memorials was a useful piece to discuss connections to these participatory spaces of memory. Here, she defines vernacular memorials as a term meant “to distinguish these privately created and maintained commemoratives from those created through more official channels” (p. 161). Julia A. Bokser’s work on advocacy and invention at public memorials helped us work through feminist responsibility with regards to ethics and place-making, especially for vulnerable communities. We found Tammie M. Kennedy and Angelika L. Walker’s piece useful with regards to understanding the “stakes and ethics of constructing public memory” (p. 96), a major issue for fandom memorials. It helped us further reflect upon our work and make smart decisions about the images we were working with and the stories we were trying to tell as we built this digital book. 

Taken together, all of these readings helped us trace a history of memory studies and create a path for understanding the work of our project. 

Fan Studies

Fan studies seeks to explore the ways in which people connect with various kinds of events, shows, people, etc., and understand how these connections impact thought on participation, making, crafting, writing, and more. As a field, fan studies' examination of participatory culture can trace its work back to Henry Jenkins (1992), with a nod towards Camille Bacon-Smith’s early work on romance novel fan communities (1992). Jenkins' work was continued by Matt Hills (2002), which we explore below. Cornel Sandvoss’ 2005 work on fans and Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington’s (2007) edited collection on fandom served to help shape fan studies as it debated the spaces, places, and genres of fan interest. Further on, Suzanne Scott’s (2008) work on fans and resistance, Gray’s (2010) work on paratexts, Mark Duffett’s (2013) text, Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse's (2014) work on fan fiction, and the 2014 collection on fan culture edited by Linda Duits, Koos Zwaan, and Stijn Reijnders serve to build a strong body of work for fan studies.

We examined the work of scholars in participatory culture and fan studies to learn about these concepts and recent research practices. Jenkins' anniversary edition (2012) of his foundational work originally published in 1992, Textual Poachers, provided an outline for understanding the basis of fan culture. This updated edition begins with a conversation between Jenkins and Scott, connecting these two scholars and providing a much-needed update for this area of study. This work helped shape early discussions with our student authors. At the core of a fan community was a base need to express themselves. Fans established groups and related to each other through pooling knowledge, resources, creativity, and encouraging others to engage in meaningful conversations around a subject or idea. Often, fans work to create paratexts—that is, text about the original author’s piece—such as fan fiction, fan art, and the writings we see in the memorials we visited. At the same time, it is important to point out that paratexts can be anything that is created around the text (including industry-created texts and fan-created ones). Paratexts serve to frame the text itself and, therefore, impact the meaning(s) made by the audiences. This commonality of group membership and group work manifests itself in a variety of ways, leading to a diverse source of inspiration in physical spaces, as we observed during our study abroad.

Leaning on the work of Hills (2002) to understand the concept of cult geographies, we can better analyze spaces such as Cardiff Bay for Doctor Who and Edinburgh for Harry Potter. According to Hill, cult geographies are “diegetic and pro-filmic spaces (and ‘real’ spaces associated with cult icons) which cult fans take as the basis for material, touristic practices” (p. 144). These are spaces fans visit, participate in, and consider important to their fandoms. In conjunction with this work, Melissa Beattie (2014) theorized that material culture such as memorials can be viewed as fulfilling three interconnected functions for the fan audience: increasing the fan tourist’s own fan subcultural capital, tying the physical and diegetic spaces together, and, in so doing, engaging in the affective play that Hills (2002) introduced to the fan studies canon. These activities can act as a paratextual frame on their own, with the Torchwood memorial being what Hills would consider to be a fan-created, second-order paratext, as well as themselves being paratextually framed by the various series with which they intersect. This concept also relates to Gray (2010), who notes frequently that the line between text and paratext often is blurred to the point of breaking down as it depends on perspective (e.g., if one has read the Harry Potter books first, they are the primary text with the films being paratexts; if one has seen the films first and read the books later, then the films are the text for that person and the books the paratexts). 

The way we interact with layered and transmedia storytelling can partially explain what we are seeing at these fan memorials. Studying the work of Scott (2008), we can examine how “as convergence culture increasingly affects media production and consumption, fan-producers are contending with both intricate new storytelling matrices and the persistent cycles of consumption these narratives encourage” (p. 210). Studying Bertha Chin and Lori Morimoto's (2013) work on transcultural fandom was critical to helping students understand how fan communities work, noting that these authors “advocate a broad framework for the exploration and interrogation of border-crossing fandoms in which the nation is but one in a constellation of contexts that inflect and influence their rise and spread” (n.p.). This work was of particular interest to us while studying the Ianto Shrine and Princess Diana’s memorial, noting representation of Welsh fans in the former and international fans in the latter. Digging into these ideas of representation in fandom, we looked at the work of Rukmini Pande in the edited collection by Lucy Bennett and Paul Booth (2016), which explores issues of race and ethnicity in fandom. Recent work by Rebecca Williams (2015) helped us work through issues of identity and fandom’s end. This work helped us understand the nuances of self-identity and fandoms and the layering by generations of fans at all three sites. These scholars are making important contributions to fan studies, and their work provided great insights to us as we worked through our materials.

Fandom ecosystems and cultures, formed through tight-knit communities and nurtured online, encourage creativity and fan-made work through knowledge sharing and discussion within these fan circles. Fan communities that trace themselves through the convergence cultures of literature, film, television, comics, and games not only provide spaces for fans to commemorate and remember their experiences about their favorite stories but also create a space to stimulate intellectual discussions between fans and producers.

A Note About Contemporary Archaeology

Though most people think of archaeology as a study purely of the past, in recent years contemporary archaeology has developed as its own subfield (see Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas, 2002). Contemporary archaeology looks at the material remains of the recent past, generally within the past 75 years. As these remains are often in living memory and can still be in active use, this field also incorporates elements of ethnography, cultural studies and cultural anthropology (Ibid, Holtorf and Piccini, Eds., 2011; Graves-Brown, Harrison, and Piccini, 2013; Schofield, 2014). Because of the element of living memory, contemporary archaeology can come with its own set of problems such as the dearth of perceived cultural value of the experience and place (e.g., it is not "old" and, therefore, lacks the legitimacy and cultural capital automatically granted to antiquity); when this occurs in conjunction with a fan-created memorial to a fictional character on a (perceived) cult television series who was engaged in a same-sex relationship, this becomes all the more acute, as will be discussed in the later chapter.

Some Basic Terms

This digital project has these main audiences in mind: fan scholars, scholar fans, and those in between. On the academic side, the purpose of this book is to help make connections across those of us who work in and think about writing studies, experience architecture, visual rhetoric, and fan studies. For fans, this digital book project is meant to showcase and recognize fan scholars who work to curate these spaces, fan communities that seek to have agency for their fandoms, and fans who help sustain these communities through reading, watching, listening, writing, drawing, or visiting. 

Given the differences between these two communities, some definitions may aid in exploring this digital project and in gaining a better understanding of, if not an appreciation for, each other’s contributions. 

Agency: This word can be fairly complicated, and there are much smarter people than us who have wrestled with it. Suffice to say, for the purposes of this project, agency refers to how any actor (in our case, a fan) is able to act in a given situation.

Canon/Fanon: Canon, first used to describe the works of Sherlock Holmes, refers to the primary source material of a fan community. For the first wave of Harry Potter fans, canon refers to the books. Fanon refers to essential works created by fans, such as Doctor WhoLock.

Con: A convention for fans, such as DragonCon, ComicCon, 221B Con, and others.

Cult Geography: The terms "cult geography" and "fan tourism" are often used interchangeably by scholars.  Broadly speaking, cult geography focuses upon the fan activities in a particular space and fan tourism looks at broader concerns such as commodification and location branding.

Digital Humanities: This word is often highly contested in the academy. In our work, we focus on how we can use technology and how technology is used to enhance human experience based on principles of agency, participation, and ethical engagement.

Experience Architecture: The study and practice of brainstorming, researching, designing, testing, and developing experiences for people based on the perspective of the humanities. Experience architects work on products, services, and policies for mediated experiences such as apps, websites, software, and built environments. In industry, we refer to this work as user experience, interaction design, user research, service design, web development, and others.

Fan Fiction/Fan Art: Writings, visuals, objects, and more produced by fans to celebrate, expand, honor, or alter their fandom’s canonical texts.

Fan-Led vs. Fan-Pushed Experiences: In our research, we have found that some experiences were designed to direct fans through an experience (fan-pushed). Other times, fans were able to explore at their own pace (fan-led). We discuss this term most directly in the Harry Potter case study. 

Participatory Memory: An area of study at the intersection of collective memory and participatory culture. This term refers to the ways in which everyday people conduct memory-making activities, often to support the work of their community. In the cases in this digital book project, these communities are fandoms.

Stance: The values researchers subscribe to and the methodological viewpoint they take when conducting research.

Visual Rhetoric: An area of interest in composition studies that looks at the ways in which visuals are deployed for meaning-making.

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