The Critical Fan Toolkit

Literature Review

Table of Contents

This section of the CFT reviews the literature across fan studies and rhetorical genre studies. I provide brief histories of each discipline, demonstrate the specific sub-fields and authors off whom I build, and explicitly create links across these disciplines. While fan studies has its own academic, peer-reviewed journal — Transformative Works and Cultures — scholars typically engage with fandoms and fan practices through their own disciplines. Scholars examine fandom practices through writing, literacy, and rhetoric lenses (Roozen, 2009; Summers, 2010; Stedman, 2012; Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016; Roozen & Erickson, 2017; Messina, 2019); through digital humanities (Lothian, 2018) and information science lenses (Fiesler, Morrison, & Bruckman, 2016; Price & Robinson, 2017); and through media and cultural studies (Jenkins, 1992 & 2008; carrington, 2013; Wanzo, 2015; Pande, 2018; Florini, 2019; Pianzola, Acerbi, & Rebora, 2020). There are so many more disciplines, such as psychology and anthropology, that have taken up examining fan practices. However, for the sake of keeping this literature review brief, I focus on fan studies as it applies to writing and rhetorical genre studies (RGS). To learn more about how I include feminist Digital Humanities, visit the “Research Ethics and Positionality” and “Methods” sections.

Fan Studies

Since the 1980s, fan scholars have argued fan communal spaces are both built off of yet separate from popular culture materials, such as television shows or movies (Russ, 1985; Lamb & Veith, 1986; Jenkins, 1992 & 2008; Summers, 2010; carrington, 2013; Hellekson & Busse, 2014). Fan communities are often built by people from marginalized subject positions, such as women (Russ, 1985; Lamb & Veith, 1986; Coppa 2008), queer people (Jones, 2002; Huntington, 2012), and people of color (carrington, 2013; Wanzo, 2015; Thomas & Storniuolo, 2016; Day & Christian, 2017; Rukmini, 2018; de Kosnik & carrington, 2019). In fan communities, there are all different forms of composing, communicating and performing such as fanfiction, fan art, fan-made music videos, analyzing source texts, cosplaying, attending conventions, and more. Fan composing practices are also ever-changing, transforming alongside the technologies and platforms used to communicate.

For instance, before the internet became a household technology, fanzines were disseminated at conventions or through snail-mail. These fanzine shared fan art and fanfiction that were authored, edited, circulated, and read by fans (Russ, 29185; Lamb & Veith, 1986; Jenkins, 1992). After the internet became a household technology, fan communities are formed on discussion boards (Summers, 2010; Potts, 2015), through social media hashtags and networks (Jung, 2011; Wanzo, 2015; Price & Robinson, 2017 & 2021; Florini, 2019), and on fanfiction publishing websites such as Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own (Dalton, 2012; Hampton, 2014; Price & Robinson, 2021; Fathallah, 2020). This history demonstrates how technologies impact fans community’s interactions and how they shape themselves. Fans relied on snail mail and print technologies for fanzines, and now they use internet publishing platforms; some of these platforms, like AO3, are designed and maintained by fans, themselves. Fans use technology affordances to carve out their own spaces.

Fan communities and social practices exist across technologies, platforms, and spaces; the types of practices also widely vary based on fandom, technology, and space constraints and affordances. Attempting to capture or define fan community practices is an almost impossible endeavor, which has led to the explosion of fan studies scholarship across the disciplines. Rukmini Pande describes fandoms as:

Loosely interlinked interpretive communities, mainly comprising women and spanning a wide range of demographics in terms of age, sexuality, economic status, and national, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, formed by popular culture texts...these communities are marked by a high degree of interactivity and intertextuality among participants and increasingly with source texts, their authors, and associated celebrities. Most significantly, their most distinguishing feature is their engagement in transformative activities, wherein the source texts are reproduced in some way to produce fan works (p 2).

Pande’s definition packs into it several important components of fandoms: diversity in fans’ backgrounds and identities; interactivity and intertextuality; engaging with the “source text;” and the inclusion of “transformative activities.”

Fans adore the works they transform, analyze, critique and reimagine, even if the hegemonic ideals embodied within these source texts mis-represent or completely exclude fans’ identities, which may include fans of color, queer fans, fans of different abilities, and more (Booth, 2012). For fans, the source text is not a stagnant piece of work, but instead a space to play and explore. In this transformative work, many fans take up the problematic ideologies and silences in these source texts, either critiquing them directly or through their reimaginings and restorying (Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016). In this section, I will trace fan studies history, look to scholars who have examined fan literacies and rhetorical practices, and finally move to define critical fandoms (carrington, 2013; Booth, 2015; Lothian, 2018; Pande, 2018).

First-Wave Fan Studies

Fan studies appears across disciplines and has been used and developed by scholars from education, feminism, new media, and other disciplines (Jenkins, 1992, 2006; Black, 2008, 2009; Dym, Brubaker, and Fiesler, 2018; carrington, 2013; Hellekson and Busse, 2006, 2014; Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016). In this section, I will examine fan studies’ history through a feminist and anti-racist lens, focusing on both scholars and important texts that show fandoms as heterogeneous, complicated communities that may reinscribe or subvert dominant ideologies.

Early fan scholars celebrated fanfiction writers’ practices and genre (Russ, 1985; Lamb & Veith, 1985; Jenkins, 1992). Feminists were analyzing and celebrating fan practices before fan studies became an official academic discipline with a peer-reviewed journals, conferences, and edited collections dedicated to fan cultures. Russ (1985) and Lamb & Veith (1986) — feminist cultural studies scholars — examine slashfic, which refers to Star Trek fanfiction written about Kirk/Spock’s romantic relationship. Joanna Russ (1985) describes slasfic, particularly sexually explicit fanfiction, as pornography that centralizes women and women’s pleasure; Russ’ perspective, though, seems to come through a heteronormative lens. Lamb & Veith (1986) resist gender norms a bit more explicitly. Their more queer-friendly reading of slashfic challenges gender conformity and masculinity as they argue Kirk/Spock are more androgynous figures. For feminists in the 1980s, fandoms represented a world separate from the patriarchy, a world that resisted phallocentrism and centered women’s pleasure.

Fan studies became canonized in academia thanks to media and culture studies scholar, Henry Jenkins. In his seminal book, Textual Poachers, bridges media studies, fan studies, and cultural studies. He argues “much of the interest of fans and their texts for cultural studies lies precisely in the ways the ambiguities of popularly produced meanings mirror fault lines within the dominant ideology, as popular readers attempt to build their culture within the gaps and margins of commercially circulating texts” (p. 31). Jenkins specifically points to how fans carve out their own communities within the “margins of commercially circulating texts.” Fans often resist the commodification of storytelling; they create their cultures without intentions of profiting off or commercializing their fan materials. Since Jenkins book, there has been a rise of the commodification of fandoms — as seen through products like Funko Pop and the wealth of material goods available for fans to purchase — that often make companies, not fan communities, money. Jenkins’ quote is one of the most cited quotes in fan studies. This moment both addresses the reflections of dominant ideologies in popular cultural texts as well as fans writers’ practices in navigating, subverting, and pushing back against these dominant ideologies.

The paradigm Jenkins writes within is the very paradigm he seems to advocate against. He celebrates fan cultures as separate from academia, yet approaches theorizing about fan cultures through a heavily theoretical lens, replicating the discourse and obtuse knowledge he critiques. Jenkins’ work also does not engage with feminism and anti-racism. In fact, he argues there has been a shift to “include” women in fan cultures, overlooking how women, fans of color, and queer fans have already worked to carve out their own spaces. While Jenkins is a fundamental scholar in fan studies, and books like Textual Poachers and Convergence Culture provide language for analyzing fandoms, I want to move away from centering Jenkins’ work. Sara Ahmed in Living a Feminist Life emphasizes the importance of citation as a political practice, especially citing women, queer scholars, and scholars of color.

Heterogeneous fandoms

These examples show how early fan scholars — or “first wave fan studies” scholars as Hellekson and Busse refer to them (2014) — originally approached fan practices from an idealized perspective. A paradigm shift occurred in fan studies because of the proliferation of the internet and online culture, fandoms as a space to study performance and queer theory, as well as a recognition of fandoms as spaces for critique (Lancaster, 2001; Hills, 2002; Jones, 2002). Sara Gwenllian Jones’ (2002) essay on cult television shows demonstrates this paradigm shift. Unlike her predecessors, Jones addresses that cult television shows invite slashfic readings because there are anti-heteronormative logics embedded in these shows. She argues, “Heterosexuality is as much a matter of social practice as it is of sexual practices” (p. 125), pointing to the ideologies depicted in these cult television shows that resist domesticity, monogamy, and any heteronormative plotlines around marriage and romance. This paradigm shift views fandoms not as inherently subversive or resistant, but rather building off what the canonical source text offers.

Of course, there are fandom practices that are subversive, and as fan studies continues to develop, scholars address fandoms as heterogenous and in need of critiquing (Jones, 2002; carrington; Booth, 2015; Wanzo, 2015; Hampton, 2015; Lothian, 2016). Feminist, queer, and anti-racist fans carved out their spaces separate from even dominant fan ideologies, fandoms like in science fiction where White men characters are centralized. Frances Coppa (2008), one of the creators of AO3, shows an example of a culture carved out by women in her analysis of “fan vidding” — or the creation of new narratives of a media product using clips, editing, and music. She specifically analyzes the meta-fanvid titled “Pressure,” makeshift auto-documentary created in 1990 about women creating a fanvid using a complicated VHS editing system. “Pressure” centers women’s labor, their pleasure, and their analytical and calculated approach to editing their fanvid. There is an emphasis in the meta-fanvid on their collective, communal, and meticulous editing practices they use to produce the final product, a collective separate from the “inclusion” of women Jenkins argues for in his book.

Examining the divisions and tensions within fandoms demonstrates how fandoms can replicate dominant ideologies. The internet becoming a household technology, too, made visible these divisions even more. For instance, in a Transformative Works and Cultures symposium on racism in fan communities (TWC Editor, 2009), led by Alexis Lothian, fans from multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds share their experience and analysis of racism in fandoms. They discuss Bingo card memes used to determine whether a fan is upholding white supremacy or not. Deepa D., a South Asian Indian woman, explains the importance of these circulating Bingo cards in both addressing racism and anti-racist community practices for fans of color:

Bingo cards might be useful for white people, but they are important for people of color because they say, ‘What you are experiencing is not personal; you're not alone; this is part of a structure.’ It's important to recognize the parts of the pattern because then it ceases to be about one person; it ceases to be about one incident that can be forgiven and becomes part of an institution that cannot be forgiven.

For Deepa D., these Bingo cards capture patterns in racist rhetoric used to dismiss and enact violence upon fans of color. The creation and circulation of these cards demonstrates how this rhetoric is “part of an institution” — or reflects larger white supremacist systems of power — and shows to fans of color that they are “not alone” in their resilience through these systems. What makes these Bingo cards anti-racist is that they make visible larger racist systems, signal how individuals’ rhetorical and composing practices can reinforce these systems, and disrupt these individual and systemic practices by directly addressing — and mocking — them. In a sense, responding to racism with these Bingo cards became a critical uptake, immediately signaling someone’s racist rhetoric through this circulated, repeated genre and performing the act of resistance by reposting these cards.

Critical Fan Studies

Critical fan studies began to appear in the early 2010s to better examine how fans perpetuate or challenge racism and heteronormativity within their own communities, becoming critical of both the source texts and fan communities (carrington, 2013; Booth, 2015; Lothian, 2018; Pande, 2018). andré carrington (2013) argues that fandoms, especially Black fandoms, are a site for “critical reception.” Paul Booth (2015) refers to fandoms as “classrooms of the future,” in which fans simultaneously build their communities of practice off and critique hegemonic culture and the texts produced within this culture. Alexis Lothian (2018) builds off Booth’s understanding of fandoms to argue that digital humanities (DH) scholars should take a similar approach to DH as critical fans take to fandom spaces. To demonstrate this, I will examine how recent fan scholarship has centralized racism and anti-racism in both fandoms and fan studies.

Critiquing racism in fandoms and fan studies is difficult, but necessary work; fan studies and fandoms are often coded white and center whiteness (Wanzo, 2015; Rukmini, 2018 & 2021; Florini, 2019; De Kosnik & carrington, 2019). Rukmini Pande (2021) in an interview argues, “I have come to recognize that the freedom to avoid writing and speaking about race is the worst form of white privilege inside the academy, and we — White scholars — cannot let ourselves off the hook here.” To ignore race, as many White fan studies scholars have done, is itself a form of white privilege. Often, fans of color and fan studies scholars of color carry the burden of addressing racism and asking for better practices, as people of color often have to take on this labor. For instance, Stitch, a popular culture fan author who publishes for Teen Vogue, writes about their and other anti-racist fans’ experiences calling out racism and, in turn, becoming a target for harassment.

andré carrington (2013), Rebecca Wanzo (2015), Rukmini Pande (2018), Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (2019), Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington (2019), and other scholars of color have dedicated their work to analyzing race and racism in fandoms. I point here to both race and racism, as it is critical to not only talk about racism, but how fandoms reify the construction of race and white supremacy. As Pande (2018) argues, “any discussion of race becomes an exception, an interruption, and a bringer of fandom drama” (p. 12). As Russ (1985), Lamb & Veith (1986), and Jones (2002) show, gender and sexuality in early fan studies were important identity markers to analyze, while race was overlooked and under-developed. This fault lies with citational politics, gatekeeping and racist practices in academia, and white scholars not thinking critically about their whiteness or race (Pande, 2020).

AAs carrington (2013) argues, though, fans of color are participating in and part of transformative fandoms, often imbuing their own critiques of white supremacy in hegemonic culture along with bending characters’ race or reconceptualizing race from the source text. Thomas and Storniuolo (2016) extend carrington’s dedication to fans of color by examining how fans, particularly young Black women, restory the source texts to insert their own lived experiences that are overlooked. They define restorying as, “a process by which people reshape narratives to represent a diversity of perspectives and experiences that are often missing or silenced in mainstream texts, media, and popular discourse” (p. 313). Restorying builds off critical race theories’ counterstorytelling methodology, or “narratives that present alternatives to dominant perspectives” (p. 316). In one of their examples, they how several fans racebent Hermione from Harry Potter as Black, contrary to Hermione being played by Emma Watson, a White actor. One fan shares that she “thought Hermione was like [her],” when she originally read the books, envisioning and identifying Hermione as a young Black girl, and the pain she experienced when Hermione was cast as White. However, this did not stop her and other fan artists and authors from racebending Hermione, reimagining her as they had originally imagined her, refusing to be erased. The notion of restorying and counterstorytelling is crucial in fandoms, as fans who belong to marginalized groups — especially fans of color and queer fans — resist normative narratives that contribute to their everyday, real oppression.

Antifandom is another fandom practice and space that resist systems of power, especially white supremacy. Antifandoms are created out of hatred or critique, rather than love, of a cultural product (Gray, 2005). Gray argues that, “antifandom can become a powerful means of constructing one’s own self and personal media fluency and literacy in relation to the deficient viewing of others” (p. 852). For antifandoms, moral critiques are what brings fans togethers, where networks are created around the notion of hate-watching or loving-to-hate particular source texts, characters, and even celebrities. Wanzo (2015) builds off Gray’s argument by arguing that antifandoms are “omnipresent” for Black cultural critics, both professional and everyday critics. Black cultural critics often engage with texts that they recognize as problematic, critiquing of both the “aesthetics” and “politics” of the texts. Wanzo also points to antifandom practices as a form of activism for Black fans and cultural critics, creating and building networks around addressing issues — especially whiteness — in cultural production.

Fan studies history, as with most academic histories, demonstrates how scholars’ positionalities can lead to blindness around particular ideas. While fan studies has since transformed to engage with a more heterogeneous understanding of fandoms, recognizing that fandoms are still entangled within the very same systems of oppression as source texts, there is still much more work to be done. White supremacy and heteronormativity are still prevalent in everyday fan practices, leading to violence and erasure. How can fandoms, then, become the truly transformative spaces they were once imagined to be?

Fan Writing Practices: Fans Performing Selfhood

For this section, I focus on scholars who have studied fan writing practices as one method to better tackle the question above: how can fan authors help to construct truly transformative, critical, and resistant spaces? Writing, literacy, and rhetoric scholars have examined fan writing and composing practices to develop their literacy practices and develop/perform aspects of their identities (Black, 2008 & 2009; Roozen, 2009; Summers, 2010; Stedman, 2012; Potts, 2015; Hampton, 2015; Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016; Roozen & Erickson, 2017; Thomas, 2019). Thomas & Stornaiuolo (2016) examine the impacts of storying and restorying, especially for Black fans and their literacy development. Summers (2010) traces how Twilight fans negotiate their feminist identities in relation to a source text that several label as anti-feminist. Hampton (2015) analyzes a case of a polyamorous writer who subverts heteronormativity by labeling monogamy as a content warning, thus subverting the normalized notion of monogamy. These scholars offer insight into fan composing processes as methods for exploring their identities, challenging normative narratives, and claiming ownership over their language use.

Several scholars examine fan composing practices through the lens of literacy studies, examining how fans’ literacy practices and developments help them to cultivate a sense of self (Black, 2008 & 2009; Roozen, 2009; Stedman, 2012; Thomas & Storniuolo, 2016; Roozen & Erickson, 2017). Literacy scholars examine the sociomaterial reading, writing, and knowledge-making practices that exist and are perpetuated through particular cultural contexts and embedded with particular ideologies (Vee, 2017). Kevin Roozen (2009), Rebecca Black (2008), and Sarah Summers (2010) each use similar case study methods of data collection to examine fans’ literacy practices and how these intersect with their development of selfhood and their ownership over language, technologies, and vernacular.

Kevin Roozen (2009 & 2017) uses a case study method to examine fanfiction authorship through a literacy lens. His case study revolves around Kate, who is both a graduate student and a fanfiction author. Like Black, he points to the networked activities in fandoms as “figur[ing] prominently in the production of self” (p. 140). He interviews Kate and collects texts from both her academic and fandoms spheres to demonstrate how she navigates each sphere as well as how her literacy practices for each interact. Similarly, Rebecca Black (2008 & 2009) researches multilingual writing practices for self-identified non-native English speakers. In her book, Adolescents and online fan fiction (2008), ), she follows three case studies of adolescent writers who compose fanfiction to perform aspects of their identities through writing. Specifically, she argues that studying digital composing practices through a new literacy lens allows researchers to:

Think about the online proliferation of networked, participatory ‘centers of learning’ (Purves, 1998 as cited by Black, 2008)...[and] it is time to address how such prolific, networked, and interactive sources of information may influence students’ attitudes toward and facility with more traditional, structured, and enclosed ‘centers of learning,’ such as books, encyclopedias, classrooms, and even libraries. (p. 7)

IIn Black’s study, she examines these “networked, participatory ‘centers of learning’” to demonstrate how fan authors, especially multilingual fan authors writing in a more globalized context, are taking ownership over their literacy practices and learning about technologies of reading, writing, and communication in digital spaces. She argues that writing in these “networked participatory ‘centers of learning’” provides adolescent writers with methods for self-directed learning, engaging authentically with technologies, developing their communication skills — especially for multilingual writers, and owning their creativity. Finally, Sarah Summers (2010) demonstrates how Twilight fans, mostly adolescent girls, on a particular discussion board negotiate their identities as Twilight fans — a text that leaves little room for a feminist reading — and identities as young feminists learning about the world.

Black, Roozen, and Summers all mention forms of resistance and subversion, but Darlene Hampton (2015) and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Amy Stornaiuolo (2016) explicitly examine subversive fandom composing practices, especially in resisting heteronormativity and white supremacy. Thomas and Stornaiuolo (2016) emphasize how Black adolescent authors resist white supremacy by asserting aspects of their identity into their reimaginings and restorying tactics. While Hampton (2015) uses performance studies rather than literacy studies as a lens — but her focus is composing as performance — her article examines a collaboratively-written roleplaying Harry Potter fanfiction in which the authors assert and perform their selfhood both within the actual fanfiction texts as well as their interactions with other fans in their networks. Hampton looks at how the authors, for instance, use metadata tags to assert their own identity: for instance, they write “Monogamy warning!” and in a later comment, they identify as polyamorous. They aim to subvert heteronormative notions of sexuality and relationships by labeling monogamy as a content warning.

Most researchers examining fan literacies follow a case study approach, contextualizing their study within a specific boundary, such as a few authors, one discussion board space, or even one fanfiction text. However, each of their case studies shed light onto fan literacy practices where fans navigate networked publics, negotiate their identity, develop their own voices, and assert their selfhood. As Thomas & Stornaiuolo (2016) and Hampton (2015) show, though, there are trends across fandom practices, including different genres, approaches to restorying a text, and modes of interacting with other fans.

As computational methods have become more commonplace in research, there is a growing amount of fan studies research that examines trends across larger corpora. Dym, Brubaker, and Fiesler (2018) examine how fan authors “author gender” through the use of metadata; they specifically examine the different “Additional Tags” fan authors writer that signal characters are transgender as an active resistant to the binary created by AO3’s “Relationship Categories,” which only has options for the gender binary, rather than more open options for a gender spectrum. Price & Robinson (2021) also examine metadata trends across different fan platforms, such as AO3 and Tumblr, to examine how fans define and navigate their communities.

While fan scholars have examined fanfiction as a literacy and through the lens of performance studies, there is less attention paid to tracing the conventions of fanfiction and why these conventions may exist. More research into defining fanfiction genres, tracing why these conventions may exist, the ideologies embedded within these conventions, and how individual fans resist or reinscribe these ideologies. I turn to Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS) to better trace the dynamic actions within fan generic conventions and individuals’ uptakes of these conventions. By merging RGS and fan studies, this project articulates and compares larger trends within two fandoms, examines how each fandom reinforces or challenges dominant ideologies like white supremacy and heteronormativity, and also examines individual critical uptake and the affective connections fans make with the source texts, their communities, and their own writing.

Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS)

RGS comes from a multidisciplinary merging of several approaches to texts and communication: speech act theory, rhetoric, linguistics, phenomenology, and others. In the 1960s, J. L. Austin centered his work around how speech is an action that may lead to particular results; this theory helped pave the way to speech-act theory. The notion of genres as actions is central in RGS, as I will discuss in a few paragraphs with Carolyn Miller, whose seminal piece catapulted RGS. RGS has often been used in relation to the teaching of writing, metacognitive learning, and pedagogy (Rounsaville, Goldberg, & Bawarshi, 2008; Bastian, 2010; Artemeva & Fox, 2010 & 2011; Reiff & Bawarshi, 2011; Rounsaville, 2014; Bastian, 2015; Kill, ). However, this project is more invested in examining RGS through a public lens and centering writers’ agency in navigating and uptaking genres (Bawarshi, 2000; Giltrow & Stein, 2009; Reiff & Bawarshi, 2016; Dryer, 2016).

History of rhetorical genre studies

In the field of rhetoric and writing studies, according to Freedman and Medway (1994), traditional rhetorical concepts – like audience and occasion – began appearing in the 1970s and were incorporated in process-based pedagogy; these concepts, like speech as an action, became central in genre studies, as well. According to Natasha Artemeva’s (2006) history of the RGS, though, the notion of rhetorical situation came out of the failures of the cognitive process-based work in composition theory. Artemeva argues the rhetorical situation – which focuses on context, audience, and exigency (a specific issue, problem, or context that motivates a writer to respond) – fills this gap. In this section, I will trace how Carolyn Miller’s seminal text defining genre as a rhetorical, social action has been taken up.

Before defining genre as rhetorical, I first turn to Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981, 1986), whose work solidified notions of speech genres and utterances as social. His theories have been used as a basis for RGS, as he focuses on interaction and dialogue. Speech genres are socially embedded, relatively stable actions within particular contexts and between particular people. While the speech genres are likely to be stable, the agency of a speaker/writer comes from these utterances, which are more individualized and specific to the speaker/writer. One of Bakhtin’s most central contribution is addressivity and the notion that utterances are preceded by other utterances; “[utterances] are aware and mutually reflect one another” (p. 91). These utterances also consist within a chronotype, or a specific space-time. By recognizing the dialogic, communal, and social consciousness’ nature of an utterance, more attention can be paid attention as to how or why particular utterances are chosen in relation to the context of the interaction and the rhetorical situation surrounding that interaction.

As Bahktin’s perspective became centralized in genre studies because of its focus on interaction and social construction, Carolyn Miller’s formative article “Genre As Social Action” (1984) launched a new sociorhetorical and multidisciplinary approach to genre studies – Miller translated the notion of speech as action to genre as action. Miller’s famous definition of genre – a definition that is still cited in most studies using an RGS framework – is genres are “typified rhetorical actions in recurrent situations.” Instead of viewing genre as a stabilized category in which texts and ideas fit, Miller believes genre is separate from form because it is an action: the action of producing, reproducing, responding, and recurring all based on the social situations in which these actions take place. This view focuses on the phenomenology of genre, or the rhetorical and social situations in which genres are produced and reproduced. Genre also “serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community” (p. 39). The exigence and situations can be assessed and particular ideologies about social, cultural, and political contexts can be extracted.

As Bahktin’s perspective became centralized in genre studies because of its focus on interaction and social construction, Carolyn Miller’s formative article “Genre As Social Action” (1984) launched a new sociorhetorical and multidisciplinary approach to genre studies – Miller translated the notion of speech as action to genre as action. Miller’s famous definition of genre – a definition that is still cited in most studies using an RGS framework – is genres are “typified rhetorical actions in recurrent situations.” Instead of viewing genre as a stabilized category in which texts and ideas fit, Miller believes genre is separate from form because it is an action: the action of producing, reproducing, responding, and recurring all based on the social situations in which these actions take place. This view focuses on the phenomenology of genre, or the rhetorical and social situations in which genres are produced and reproduced. Genre also “serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community” (p. 39). The exigence and situations can be assessed and particular ideologies about social, cultural, and political contexts can be extracted.

By understanding genre as a social action that can be transformed and is shaped by context, there is an emphasis on how community and social networks impact genre expectations and conventions. Fanfiction genres are dynamic, defined by the community, and transformed overtime based on community desires and needs. Importantly, embedded within genres — sometimes insidiously — are ideologies that shape how genre participants approach writing. For instance, slashfic fanfiction genre conventions found in 1980s have shifted because of changes in the community and access to technology. Slashfic in the 1980s mainly depicted romantic relationships between two men, and now it is more commonplace to see slashfic between two women characters and the inclusion of non-binary and transgender identities. The people writing, editing, publishing, and disseminating these fanzines were mainly cis women; now, because of the ease of fanfiction publishing technologies and shifts in cultural understandings of gender, there are people with varieties of gender identities — including trans women, gender non-conforming people, and trans men — that participate in the creation and dissemination of slashfic. Examining why particular conventions are “stabilized for now” provides a lens into understanding genre sponsors and who has power in determining what actions are appropriate. This is where examining uptake and ideology become central.

Uptake and Ideology

In its simplest definition, uptakes are the interdependent relationship between genres; one genre usually prompts another. Uptakes, first defined by Anne Fredman in 1994, are the appropriate generic responses in particular contexts that have been deemed appropriate based on place, time, frame, and function. An example of an uptake is when you get a wedding invitation in the mail and you fill out an RSVP response in return. Because genres are molded through recurrence, these uptakes have expectations and constraints that are either followed or challenged to produce results.

In the collection Genre and the Performance of Publics (2016), several scholars reframe and expand “uptake” to think more deeply about the role of uptake in public genres. I specifically turn to Dylan Dryer (2016), who creates a taxonomy to define specific types of uptakes. In my project, I build off three of his terms: uptake enactments, uptake artifacts, and disruptakes. Uptake enactments are the specific actions an individual or collective takes in response to a genre; uptake artifacts are the actual texts that are produced; disruptakes are the genre prompts that challenge common sense uptakes to either exclude particular responses or to reimagine the notion of common sense. This new taxonomy specifically divides uptakes as actions, reactions, materials, and a normalizing process. What is especially important about the normalizing process, as the next paragraph will show, is the ability to critique and challenge these larger patterns.

Ideology is a bit more difficult of a term to define than uptake, as there are contentious definitions that have been around for hundreds of years. I turn to Anthony Paré, who argues that an ideology is “A process, a socially organized activity, as the daily practices of a society’s cultural, economic, and political institutions—practices that favor a dominant minority.” Paré’s definition highlights several important aspects of ideology. First, ideology is a “socially organized” process, implying it is ever-fluctuating, contextualized, and recurring. Second, ideology is about power, especially how power is replicated and reified across institutions — cultural, economic, political, and educational. Finally, ideology is about “daily practices,” in that our everyday acts reinscribe or resist exclusive and often violent ideologies.

RGS scholars center ideology to better understand how individuals interact with disciplinary and community spaces, how disciplinary and generic norms can reinforce problematic biases and harmful social systems, and how individuals challenge generic and disciplinary norms in their uptakes (Bawarshi, 2000; Coe, Lingard, & Teslenko, 2002; Paré , 2002; Poe, 2007; Bastian, 2010; Reiff & Bawarshi, 2016).

The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre (2002) is one of the foundational texts in which genre scholars think more deeply about ideology, identity, and genre. In their introduction to the collection, Coe, Lingard, & Teslenko argue for the importance of genre studies:

Our ability to act together is founded on shared perspectives, attitudes, values, and ways of doing, on individual identification with community. The members of particular human communities and cultures are able to act together because they are able to shape discourse in socially expected and institutionally sanctioned ways (p. 6).

This definition emphasizes the communal aspects of genres, suggesting that genre participation can take a socially democratic approach and be “institutionally sanctioned.” To participate in particular genres means recognizing and sometimes conforming to particular expectations, expectations that can be community or institutionally defined. Institutions and communities are not separate, as institutions can be shaped by communities and vice versa. Often, social expectations are determined by institutions — political, educational, and cultural — that demand individuals to conform and perform in specific ways. Communities — which can exist within, reinscribe, or challenge institutions — also ask individuals to conform and perform in specific ways. Community suggests a more democratic approach to shaping social expectations, while institutions suggest a more top-down approach into shaping expectations.

In thinking about the link between institution and ideology, I turn to Anthony Paré (2002), Mya Poe (2007), and Rita Applegarth (2017) who explicitly connect institutional expectations with dominant ideology. Anthony Paré’s (2002) contribution to this collection is a solid examination for how uptake is impacted by dominant ideology, in which uptake can force individual participants to conform to particular expectations. He explores the uptake of Inuit social worker women when participating in social work genres and how these generic requirements contrast their cultural values, instead valuing dominant – white, Western, and middle class – ideologies, or the ideologies of the Inuit peoples’ oppressors. In Mya Poe’s (2007) work on writing assessment, she draws a parallel between racial identity and uptake to examine how African American student writers uptake writing prompts and, in turn, how racial bias in writing assessment uptakes the student writers’ work. Rita Applegarth (2014) uses Bazerman’s method of tracing disciplines by exploring the early years of the Anthropology discipline, particularly looking at women and people of color Anthropologists who pushed against anthropological disciplinary conventions. Her study of the rhetorical scarcity in Anthropology shows the role of generic gatekeepers in disciplinary formation. She shines light on the role of positionality in disciplinary formation and how those who pushed against disciplinary and identity norms upheld critical values in their genre participation.

Just as genres can reinscribe dominant ideologies, so too can they challenge these ideologies. Bawarshi (2000, 2016a) also extends Freadman’s notion of uptake to think more deeply about the roles of power, privilege, and ideology within generic boundaries and uptakes. Genre boundaries are put in place for a reason and reflect particular ideologies; analyzing uptake allows RGS scholars to unravel the seams between these genres in order to learn the rules for participating within particular genres, to build and join communities that are constructed in genre ecologies, and/or to problematize these rules by exposing the harmful ideologies woven within genre performance.

In order to trace fans’ uptakes of source texts and genres within their own communities, I build off Bawarshi’s commitment to uptake as a response to power, Dryer’s (2016) extension of uptake definitions, Faith Kurtyka’s (2015) expansion on RGS and embodiment, and Heather Bastian’s (2015) methodology for tracing individual students’ uptake. In order to draw explicit connections between embodiment and genre performance, Kurtyka (2015) centers emotion. Why do particular actors perform within particular genres or uptake other genres? What are their motivations and attachments to these genres? Bastian uses qualitative methods to provide a methodology for tracing how students navigate and access their discursive resources. She specifically points to the importance of studying individual uptakes. My project builds off these commitments to studying individual uptakes and centering embodiment and performance by specifically examining fan’s individual critical uptakes that are both responses to fan genres and responses to popular culture genres. How do fans actively resist dominant ideologies in their genre performances and uptakes?