Looking to Fandom in a Time of Change

The following is the abstract for my keynote talk at EUROCALL 2017 (August 25, 2017) at the University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.

We live in a time of change that requires flexible and creative approaches to the socio-political mandates and constraints imposed upon our teaching and scholarship. While CALL provides us with technology-mediated solutions to some of the challenges that stem from recent political developments (e.g. subverting limitations to academic freedom imposed by national travel bans; see Oskoz & Smith, 2017), technology itself poses other challenges, including threats to personal dignity, privacy, individual agency, and democratic digital citizenship (European Data Protection Supervisor, 2015). In this talk I argue that we look to fandom for inspiration and motivation in responding to the socio-political challenges facing us in this time of change.

Online fandom, defined as “the local and international networks of fans that develop around a particular program, text or other media product” (Sauro, 2014, p. 239) encompasses online affinity groups of fans who come together over social media and other Web 2.0 platforms to communicate, create, celebrate, critique or otherwise respond to the media, artist, personality, team or thing they are a fan of. These digital contexts and communication technologies have both enhanced and enabled sophisticated fan practices, for example, the formation of international and multilingual teams of fans engaged in amateur subtitling and translation of their favorite television shows and graphic novels (e.g., Valero-Porras & Cassany, 2016; Zhang & Cassany, 2016). At the same time, online fandom has also come together in response to changes and challenges in their socio-political landscape. This is illustrated, for instance, in the formation of the fan activist group the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) whose 100,000 worldwide members draw inspiration from the Harry Potter stories to mobilize against social injustices and to raise money for charity in response to international natural disasters and literacy initiatives (Jenkins, 2012). In addition, fandom’s response to shifting digital landscapes, including those brought about by corporate interest and ever-changing terms of service, has led to the formation of fan archives for the purpose of legitimizing and preserving fanworks (Lothian, 2011).

In this talk, I begin by reviewing research on fans which has examined their language and literacy development through various online fan practices such as modding and debating, fanfiction writing, scanlation, and spoiling. I then look to other practices or movements fans have engaged in to respond to changing sociopolitical and digital landscapes and which may serve as models and inspiration for the socio-political challenges CALL practitioners and researchers face in this time of change.

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