Or, doing what others can’t do.
As I slowly make my peace with not being a ‘real’ (read: employed in an institution of higher learning) academic – nor, if I’m being honest, wanting to be one, at least in the US (my psychiatrist the other day was all, “I cannot imagine trying to get tenure at 50”) – I’ve turned my attention to what I do want to do. Although financial precarity is always only an unanticipated catastrophe away, I’m currently blessed with a spouse who inexplicably believes in my research and insists that my time is better spent writing and researching than working in a job that doesn’t pay enough and complicates the daily hassles of getting kids where they need to go. While I don’t always share his faith in my abilities, I have been trying to think of ways to make being outside institutional academia work for me.
There are, in fact, benefits to being an independent academic. None of them involve access to resources, prestige, or professional validation, but to a much greater extent than most of my peers, I’m pretty free to write on what I like and say about it what I will. Since the only person I really need to please is myself (‘is this what I wanted to say?’), and not some committee that cares more about academic fashions and what constitutes valid scholarship, I have a lot of latitude in both what and how I write. I can (mostly) afford to publish on open-access sites, as well as play out new ideas on my personal blog or some other online forum. I can play with digital expressions of ideas without having to worry if they ‘count’ or not. And I have the leeway to move into the liminal space between academia and fandom and try to find ways for us to mutually understand one another better.
One step in that direction is my planned lecture series called “Fan Studies for Fans,” which I’m hosting on Patreon. The decision to use Patreon took awhile to reach; it’s not particularly ideal for courses of any kind, particularly in terms of layout and functionality. What it does offer, though, is the ability to offer different levels of payment/participation, which I’m hoping will contribute to more people signing up for it. That is, while it’s absolutely part of a way to try and generate the money I need for library access and conference attendance (every little bit helps!!), I also really want it to be available to as many interested fans as possible. The whole point of it is to introduce what’s otherwise often a seemingly labyrinthine sub-discipline to the people for whom it may be most relevant – to use the ‘fan’ in acafan not as a legitimizing tactic for talking about fans as much as a responsibility to the fans about which we write to be as transparent in what we do as possible. I don’t expect all fans to agree with/be interested in everything we do in fan studies; oftentimes, what we’re talking about is more relevant to ongoing theoretical conversations than fandoms per se. But I believe that fan studies (like ‘independent’ scholarship) is uniquely positioned to do something that other humanities disciplines cannot do, for being well established and thus less likely to attempt new things; namely, I think we can engage with the world outside our books and articles and talk with, rather than at or about, the cultures that interest us.
So, this is one step in that direction. I’m anxious about how it will go, having never attempted anything quite like this before (it’s somewhat different from the reading group I ran briefly a few years ago), but I’m doing my best to ensure people get what they came (and paid!) for. And if it seems like something YOU might be interested in, come see what’s in the works!!