Fans, marks, stans, and smarks: Conceptualizing belonging, participation, and in/exclusivity across diverse fan communities

Danielle Kohfeldt

California State University Long Beach


Fan culture communities are diverse (Vo, Nguyen, Correa-Chavez & Kohfeldt, 2018), but sense of inclusion is not equally distributed. Prior research suggests that members of nondominant groups (e.g., women, people of Color) encounter prejudice and discrimination within their fan communities (Stern & Kohfeldt, 2017). Despite widespread anecdotal reports of gender-based gatekeeping, there is a dearth of empirical research investigating boundary policing within fan cultural communities.  In this study, we conducted an online survey to examine the experiences and perceptions of a national sample of self-identified comic book, film, television, and video game fans (N = 305). Participants included 187 female (average age = 35.1) and 118 male (average age = 31.3) fans.  Participants identified as White (75%), Asian (8.7%), Latinx (7.7%), other/mixed race (6.7%), Black (1.3%), Pacific Islander/Hawaiian (1.3%) and American Indian/Alaskan (.3%). The survey was designed to capture fans’ interpersonal experiences within fandom, including their perceptions of fandoms as in/exclusive spaces. Using a mixed-method study design, these data reveal the complexity of perceptions and attitudes by and about fans, and sheds light on the relationship between gender and the experience of in/exclusivity across fan communities.  Statistical analyses revealed that women were more likely than men to endorse the idea that diversity improves their fandom, and favored their fandom becoming more welcoming.  Women were also less likely to say that they saw their gender or sexuality represented in canon.  Conversely, men were more likely to say that they disliked the idea of their fandom becoming popular, and were more likely to disapprove of changes to canon.  Qualitative thematic analyses of open-ended responses to survey items suggests that across demographic categories and modes of participation, a strong sense of community drives fan participation and is essential to fan identity.  Implications and future research will be discussed.

2019 National Conference
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