Abigail De Kosnik

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Archiving Fandom: Media Users and Digital Cultural Memory
Department:
Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies
Term:
Spring 2014
Abigail De Kosnik is an Assistant Professor in the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM) and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, and is an affiliated faculty member of Gender & Women’s Studies. She researches popular media, particularly digital media, film and television, and fan studies.  She is particularly interested in how issues of feminism, queerness, ethnicity, and transnationalism intersect with new media studies and performance studies.  She has published a number of essays in edited collections and journals such as Cinema JournalModern DramaThe International Journal of Communication, and Transformative Works and Cultures.  She co-edited The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington (University Press of Mississippi, 2011).  Her courses include: History and Theory of New Media (one of the core required seminars for the Designated Emphasis in New Media), Sound Design (in one of the Digital Media Labs shared by TDPS, Film & Media, and Art Practice), Performance and Technology, and Performance and Television.  She is currently writing a book on the history of Internet fan fiction, based on an oral history project conducted during 2012-13, and she is the primary investigator on a digital humanities project called “Fan Data: Counting Archives and Networks.”  She is the co-organizer of the annual History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series.

Archiving Fandom is a comprehensive study of the phenomenon of online fan fiction archives.  Fan fiction refers to a genre of creative writing by media fans: fans incorporate favorite characters, plotlines, and settings appropriated from films, television shows, video games, and other mass media, into original stories.  Fan fiction is an internationally popular form of digital cultural production, and I study the structures that fans have built as repositories of their works: Internet archives, in multiple formats, the largest of which currently contains 5.4 million stories in over 30 languages, by 1.2 million unique authors, attracting 139.4 million reader reviews.  Now that fan fiction stories are becoming bestselling novels and major Hollywood motion pictures (E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Gray and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments book series both originated as fan fictions posted online), fan fiction is on the verge of becoming a mainstream global media genre, and Internet fan archives are serving as sizable media distribution channels.  Archiving Fandom examines this user-generated media form on the cusp of its transition from “subculture” to “culture.” I combine quantitative and qualitative methods in my study of Internet fan fiction archives: from 2012-13, I led a research team that developed an array of data scrapers to determine the numbers of users, works, and readers on a range of fan archives, as well as the rate of growth of these archives over time; I also led an oral history project that collected more than 50 interviews with fans who shared their experiences building, using, and/or contributing to these archives.  These two approaches enable me to present a thorough analysis of how fan archives are functioning in contemporary culture.  I argue that fan fiction archives exemplify the tension between Internet users’ wish to create institutions of “digital cultural memory”—sites in which users can preserve their digital creations—and the performative, ephemeral nature of networked interactions.