The Critical Fan Toolkit

Abstract

The Critical Fan Toolkit is an open-access website designed for public audiences and interactive user experiences. In this project, I assert the pedagogical and cultural significance of fanfiction authors’ critical composing practices in resisting dominant ideologies, such as white supremacy and heteronormativity. Over the past few decades, fan studies scholars have moved from celebrating all fan practices to understanding fandoms as heterogenous; I contend critical fans engage with the theoretical and political commitments of the popular culture source text and their own communities.

The site of this study, Archive of Our Own (AO3), is a popular fanfiction publishing website. I engage with two data sets: 36,000 fanfictions about Game of Thrones and The Legend of Korra and qualitatively-coded interviews of six fan authors.. To analyze the data, I use rhetorical genre studies (RGS) to trace generic conventions; the politics embedded within these conventions; and how individual writers challenge, reimagine, or conform to these conventions through their fan uptakes. I define “critical uptakes” as when a composer explicitly resists oppressive ideologies in their generic response, whether those ideologies are embedded in the anticipated uptake or in the genre that prompted their uptake.

I analyze larger trends across fanfiction metadata, gleaning fans’ political commitments from their tagging practices. In the interviews, each fan demonstrates a meta-awareness of the politics and genres within their community and how their lived experiences drive their uptakes. I triangulate these data to conduct more in-depth analyses of fans’ individual uptakes of the source text, fandom politics, and fan genres.

Finally, I define critical fan pedagogies, provide teaching materials, and advocate for the incorporation of critical uptakes in writing classrooms to center writers’ agency in telling their stories and resisting dominant ideologies. Tracing fans’ uptake demystifies the process of writing fanfiction and provides a layout for critical uptakes in all contexts.