Theorizing Less Visible Forms of Fandom: Practices, Assemblages, Liquidity, and Other Directions

Theorizing Less Visible Forms of Fandom: Practices, Assemblages, Liquidity, and Other Directions

Jack Coffin (University of Manchester, UK) and Alison M. Joubert (University of Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch011


This chapter seeks to contribute to the current theorizations of fandom by focusing on the less visible forms that are excluded from the current conceptualizations. The current research contributions to fandom have without a doubt been invaluable in providing theoretical understandings of fan consumption. However, they have largely focused on the stereotypical fan who engages in cumulative, communitarian, and conspicuous expressions of their fandom, thereby largely ignoring the less visible forms of fandom. This chapter aims to begin the construction of an inclusive conceptual counterbalance of fandom theorizations by problematizing the current conceptualizations and providing three potential avenues through which future researchers can explore fandom in a broader way: practice theory, assemblage theory and liquid consumption. In setting this research agenda, the chapter concludes with phenomenological, structural, methodological, managerial, critical, and ethical considerations for future fandom research.
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A ‘fan’ can be defined as someone who develops a powerful emotional connection to something (usually a person, group, or franchise) and then expresses this via extraordinary forms of consumption (Chung et al. 2018; Wang et al. 2018, 2019). This definition of fandom is useful because it can encapsulate a diverse range of people and activities. However, academics and the media tend to represent fans as people who accumulate vast collections of fandom-related objects (e.g. Slate, 2016; BBC, 2019), form groups and gatherings with other fans (e.g. Thorne and Bruner, 2006; Thorne, 2011), and proudly communicate their fanaticism to non-fans through widely-recognized symbols (e.g. Hedlund, Biscaia, and Carmo Leal, 2018; Humphrey Jr., Laverie, and Shields, 2018). As such, the notion of ‘extraordinary consumption’ is delimited to cumulative, communitarian, and conspicuous expressions. Other forms of fandom are sidelined. Accordingly, the main purpose of this book chapter is to problematize such implicit framings as exclusionary in the sense that they omit or elide a wide range of attachments and activities that do not fit the tripartite characterization of the stereotypical fan outlined above. Practice theory, assemblage approaches, and liquid consumption are then suggested as three possible ways to theorize fandom more inclusively. It is important to stress that the objective of this chapter is not to replace existing understandings with an alternative framework. Instead, the objective is merely to stimulate scholars to think more broadly about fans and their consumption using whichever theoretical resources are appropriate. This chapter is animated by the assumption that thinking more inclusively has many theoretical and managerial advantages, as well as the ethical benefit of acknowledging and appreciating underrepresented and underserved groups of passionate consumers. Fans with vast collections, strong community affiliations, and conspicuous consumption activities are easier for academics to study and for managers to extract value from. This chapter does not seek to deny that these are important forms of fandom. However, any implication that other forms are inaccessible or lacking in value would be challenged by a more inclusive perspective that seeks to understand and manage all fans in their own terms.

The remainder of this book chapter is structured as follows: first, the existing literature is reviewed to identify the patterns of thinking that structure contemporary understandings of fandom as cumulative, communitarian, and conspicuous; then practice theory, assemblage approaches, and liquid consumption are presented in turn, each representing a theorization that can help to broaden thinking about fans and their consumption; finally, the chapter concludes by outlining some of the key areas that future research would need to consider in order to develop the more inclusive theorization advocated here - these are phenomenological, structural, methodological, managerial, critical, and ethical. It is worth clarifying from the outset that these sections generate questions and provide few definitive conclusions, it is hoped that by the end of this chapter the reader may be inspired to find some answers of their own.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Consumption Community: A group of people who share a common consumption-related interest, and who develop communitarian characteristics like reciprocity, collective identity, and moral responsibilities through repeated gatherings in person or online.

Invisible Fandom: Fandom that is not expressed through communal pursuits, vast collections of material culture, and/or public displays of conspicuous consumption.

Liquid Consumption: The extent to which consumption is ephemeral, access based, and dematerialized, usually enabled and engendered by rapidly changing social and technological conditions.

Practices: Collective templates for action that structure society and individual behaviors. Practices are constructed from elements of meaning, materiality, and activity to form a pattern that endures.

Assemblages: These are difficult to define because the original purpose of the assemblage concept was to provide a non-hierarchical, disorganized, and open-ended way of thinking about reality. However, a simple definition of an assemblage is a collection of material and expressive components whose connections create emergent phenomena.

Invisible Consumption: Utilizations of market resources that are not easily seen by others or whose cultural connotations are disputed. This means that these forms of consumption are meaningful only to the individual consumer in question. In-between visible and invisible consumption is inconspicuous consumption, where consumption is visible to a small number of consumers who have been socialized into the subtle codes necessary to discern meaning.

Visible Consumption: Utilizations of market resources that are easily seen by others. The cultural connotations of these consumption patterns are often widely agreed upon, making them conspicuous symbols of identity and affiliation.

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