Just back from the University of Huddersfield, where the 2017 Fan Studies Network Conference was held this year, commemorating both five years of FSN and the opening of the Centre for Participatory Culture there. My biggest takeaway from the conference was a kind of zeitgeist that, for me, both re-energized my own commitment to what I’m working on, as well as made me a bit melancholy that I can’t be doing more.
The two themes that kept rising to the surface of papers and conversations were the relation of the researcher-as-fan/person to their scholarship, as well as increasing avenues for making lateral connections across seemingly unrelated objects of study. They may have stuck in my head because they’re what I’m most interested in, personally, but it was gratifying to see that I’m not alone in thinking about these things. Louisa Stein gave a real tour-de-force of a keynote address in which she seamlessly melded academic/fan/citizen subjectivities in her recounting of her creative output since the 2016 US election and all its aftermath. There was much to admire about what she said (and showed!), but for me it was especially noteworthy for how unabashed she was about discussing things that are intensely meaningful to her. Based on what she said, I know she was uneasy about showing herself that starkly in an academic context, but from where I sat it was nothing less than an example of how the political is personal – as is scholarship – and how we shouldn’t be shying away from that aspect of it.
To my mind, given how young and (arguably) disproportionately non-institutionalized fan studies is, we’re in something of a unique position to make arguments like this. As came up a few times during the conference, for younger or more institutionally situated scholars who have to work within the confines of university systems that rely on publishing metrics for their own continued survival, it’s not so easy to go off the beaten track and do work that’s typically frowned upon, or commit to publishing in open access journals, etc. But there are those of us who, for better or worse, are beholden only to the people who pay our way to conferences and the like (in my case, my husband), and in my more positive moments that gives me a kind of sense of purpose – do the work that others can’t do, because I cannot be fired and I’m not being measured. If people don’t like what I do, they’ll either ignore me or criticize me, but if what I do can help anyone then… yeah.
The lateral thinking thing came up first during the opening roundtable on kind of the state of the field, when Matt Hills talked about work that’s escaping textual or even conceptual silos and making connections across unexpected affinities – something that’s very near and dear to me in general. While I’ve been kind of hanging out in Hanniballand for a bit, my ‘home’ in fan studies remains transcultural fandom as a kind of heuristic for thinking about such lateral connections, and hearing it talked about as a positive sort of thing gave me some real hope for stuff I’m working on/that’s coming out in publications in the next year or so. I often get frustrated when people in a discipline voluntarily narrow what they’re willing to read and consider through some idea of what’s ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’ to them – take, for example, the panel I was a respondent for at SCMS. This was a great panel on Queer Chinese Fandoms, encompassing BL, singing artists, etc., and yet of all the people in the Fan and Audience Studies Special Interest Group that were at SCMS this year, I was one of only, I think, two of us to attend the panel. It’s far too easy for people to assume that if it’s “Chinese,” it must not have any connection to what they’re working on; but an emphasis on lateral connections demonstrates just how relevance can be found in the least expected of places. It’s something I wish more people would take seriously.
This is all very me-oriented, isn’t it? Reason why I’m not calling this a “report,” no. 1.
I’m still kind of tired and fuzzy-brained, and typically fighting off post-conference what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-itis (still missing the legitimacy that institutional affiliation affords, even with the benefits it brings), so this is very sketchy and a bit incoherent, but those were a couple of thoughts I wanted to get down before I forget everything.
EDITED TO ADD
I did my paper, too! The title, after several dozen changes, ended up being ‘First Principles: Hannibal, Affective Economy, and Oppositionality in Fan Studies’. I’m still not entirely convinced I said anything that needed saying in a theoretical sense, but I got to show pictures of me-as-Fannibal, which was fun. The paper is available here, and the powerpoint slides (which aid in making sense of the paper) are here.