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methodology

Call For Collaboration-Textual Analysis of Supernatural

Posted on request from Liorah Golomb:

I am looking for a collaborator with computational linguistic skills for a project mining the dialogue of the U.S. television program Supernatural (CW Network, 2005-present). My goal is to demonstrate, through textual analysis, the originality of the dialogue, the breadth of words and phrases used by the writers, the way language is used to distinguish characters and reveal character traits, etc.The product of this project will be an article for publication in a peer-reviewed venue. Presentation at an appropriate conference is also a possibility.

A chapter that I’ve written about my exploration of this project thus far is forthcoming in Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, March 2015). That chapter documents my process of creating the corpora from fan-created transcripts, testing and selecting concordance tools, and examples of the type of results these efforts will produce. It also discusses the limitations of examining only the dialogue in a visual medium and my own limitations as a non-linguist.

My hope is that a partner with the skills I lack will be able to help me with linguistic concepts as well as determine (1) whether there is a way to codify non-verbal action and communication for analysis and (2) whether it would be useful to encode the text for analysis. Interest in or familiarity with Supernatural is a plus.

I am an academic librarian and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma with a long history of publishing scholarly work. My CV can be found at ou.academia.edu/LiorahGolomb.

Please contact me to discuss this project further: liorah.golomb@gmail.com.

[META] Whose pregnancy?

Mary Ingram-Waters wrote an article in the most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures called “When Normal and Deviant Identities Collide”, about her experiences trying to collect information from authors of mpreg fan fiction stories at a Harry Potter fan convention. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

“Mpreg” means “male pregnancy,” and it has its own subgenre niche inside fan fiction. Ingram-Waters quotes a fan author as ruefully explaining, “It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ for some and a squick for others, and is in general not that well regarded [among fan fiction readers and writers], mostly because it allegedly turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves.”

Ingram-Waters writes that there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated by the authors she interviewed in person compared to the authors she interviewed via email. The authors she interviewed at the convention seemed to make more mention of the stigma of writing mpreg when faced with an actual pregnant woman. They seemed defensive and took pains to note that they had done research on pregnancy before writing. One writer refused to be interviewed at the convention, after previously agreeing.

Ingram-Waters writes, “One explanation for the negative interactions is that my physical presence illuminated the extent of deviance of their mpreg stories.”

Deviance can certainly be found in fan fiction, however one wants to define the term (I immediately thought of that tag line, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”), but I am focusing on the dictionary definition of the word, seen in the way she contrasts “normal” and “deviant” in the title of her article. I think by that contrast, we can see that mpreg is not all that “out there” in fan fiction terms. One of the things fan fiction does with mpreg is the same thing that commercial science fiction that speculates with gender roles does – it experiments. It plays. What does it mean to be pregnant – socially, culturally, personally? Would it mean something different to a man than it does to woman? What do we learn about pregnancy if we posit that it’s the men who do it and not the women, like sea horses? What is gender, anyway, and what does it have to do with reproduction?

A lot of this sort of questioning and playing goes on in fan fiction, as it does in science fiction, and I have always found those kinds of questions deeply interesting, and also at times downright entertaining.

This particular Ingram-Waters article was confined, however, to the methodological issues, and did not go on to actually examine her findings as she researched the subgenre of mpreg itself, although I am hoping that at some point she’ll publish the outcome of her research on the stories and the authors! That would be fascinating too.

She found that unlike other scholars who have conducted field research while pregnant, the experience of being a “visible normative reproducer” was of no help in establishing rapport with mpreg writers. Some scholars in other fields, she found, have written that being pregnant makes them seem nonthreatening and gives the people they meet something perceived as positive to talk about, something familiar.

Ingram-Waters also noted that she had gone to some pains to identify and establish herself as an acafan as she pursued her research into the mpreg subgenre online, but that face to face, her identity as a pregnant cisgendered woman trumped that pretty completely.

She found a silver lining in even her negative interview experiences, writing that perhaps she’d stumbled on an efficient way to elicit “stigma management strategies for mpreg authors.” I share her fascination with subjects concerning “identities of gender, sexualities and normative bodies,” and I look forward to getting to read more, someday, of her actual research into mpreg fan fiction.

In the meantime, her description of how she was received made a fascinating story.