HASTAC crosspost; fandom, academia, and knowledge production

I’m involved in the Duke University and MacArthur-sponsored HASTAC this year, as a HASTAC scholar. I’ve been following the conversations and events associated with HASTAC and its various members for years, so I am pleased to be making it official. I hope to crosspost blogs here and on the HASTAC site.

I thought I’d start off my introductory blog post by reflecting a little on the process that has sucked me in to the digital humanities. I feel that I’m only beginning to think about how digital engagement can alter the form and the possibilities of my scholarly work — supplementing writing with video editing as a way to approach and think about how connections between ideas can be expressed, contemplating the way links and tweets and blogs change the shape of narrative and research and analysis. But before I was a professional scholar, I was being led to think about these questions by different paths.

I’m first and foremost a scholar of gender and sexuality, and my own understanding of those things has been massively impacted by my participation in online cultures and by my involvement, as a reader and a fan, with science fiction. I am fascinated by the extent to which digital practices and fictional engagements come to shape our selves and worlds — something that came up fascinatingly with reference to online avatars and other practices during the recent HASTAC forum about queer and feminist media. While I’ve been working on my dissertation, which takes a historical and theoretical look at that question by exploring how a range of fictional engagements with imaginary futures have been used to challenge dominant models of gender and sexuality, I’ve also been a participant in and archivist of science-fiction-focused online fan cultures — and the conversations I’ve been part of there have influenced my intellectual work as much as the scholarship I read in academic journals does.

One of the ideas I’d like to think about while at HASTAC is the extent to which I’ve experienced fandom as a place where all kinds of digital knowledge production happen outside of the confines of academic institutions. I’d like to think that the support for open access scholarship, and the growth of conferences and so forth that bring scholars and different kinds of practitioners together, could include a space for acknowledging the work of amateurs for whom creation and analysis are a crucial part of the texture of their lives regardless of economic or professional reward. Of course that brings up all kinds of contradictions (not least that amateurs themselves don’t always want to be engage with the academic world, or subcultural participants with the mainstream; many parts of fandom firmly prefer to stay in the internet’s backwaters).

I’d like to share a couple of links about fan communities as sites of knowledge production. Alice Bell, an old friend of mine and science studies scholar who has recently become a high-profile science communication blogger, has a discussion about fandom as a frequent practice of self-education at Matthew C Nisbet’s blog Age of Engagement.

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, there’s also an older piece I helped bring into being, a roundtable on fandom and antiracist activism, published by the open access journal on fan studies whose editorial team I’m part of: Pattern Recognition. Since a year and a half tends to be a very long time in online culture, a lot has changed since the events discussed there, but I still think it’s vitally important to recognize the ways that academic and activist discourses — including, as Alice’s article helped me to think about, scientific ones — contribute to, and get added to, in the context of relatively marginal online cultures.

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