Karen Hellekson's picture

ICFA 32 just ended! I gave a paper entitled “Fandom kerfuffles as expressions of agency.” (I’m sure you noticed that I do not have a subtitle.) I assess fandom kerfuffles, and I used as my example Strikethrough ’07. I argue that kerfuffles are an important way for members of the fan community (broadly conceived) to exert collective agency. This agency may or may not result in change, but regardless, fans, through a process of consensus, come to act as moral agents who exert agency and impose value judgments. The kerfuffle is a divisive discussion, often centering on the lack of autonomy or freedom an individual feels. Kerfuffles are important because they are expressions of an emergent collective group, and that group is made up of individuals who perceive themselves as having agency.

The point of the kerfuffle becomes the kerfuffle itself; it is a mode of expressing agency, discussing a topic, and engaging with others in a topic larger than fandom-specific concerns: gender, race, class. The kerfuffle permits the ad hoc, emergent fan grouping taking part to act as the moral community that provides space for this sort of important discussion. In addition to the fan grouping being emergent, the intention is likewise emergent. (I discuss this in terms of the sociological literature.)

I won’t reproduce the description of Strikethrough ’07 here, as it’s been very well documented and readers of this blog can easily find out about it. I use it as an example because it resulted in emergent action: the creation of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW). The kerfuffle united, rather than divided, groups of fans into a larger emergent group that made an ethical judgment about a situation and then took action using fan norms. This kerfuffle cut at the heart of fans’ artistic integrity and the infrastructure of many fans’ most fundamental social engagements, LiveJournal. Kerfuffles work by rending the fan community and then emergently reconstituting it, thus permitting fannish core values and norms to be assessed and reaffirmed; but they can also work to bring about directed action.

This work is related to an essay I published last year about Fandom Wank, and I have also done work on the MsScribe Story. I’m interested in kerfuffles and wanks in terms of documentation and fan norms. I plan to write up this paper and the MsScribe Story paper for publication.

I saw lots of familiar faces, and I met a lot of great new people, including many smart grad students. I got on my fangirl squee when I got to chat with the writer guest of honor, Connie Willis, whose recent books, Blackout and All Clear, are even better than her previous masterwork, The Doomsday Book. Scholar guest of honor Andrea Hairston’s lunchtime talk, which began with African women sitting on men and ended with the film District 9, ranks among the best, most thought-provoking, wide-ranging performances I have ever witnessed.

Filed under: con report

Karen Hellekson

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 21 Mar 2011 21:31:46 +0000