Once I started thinking about fandom in terms of the small group communication theories I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, more and more things from that textbook seemed germane!
As I said, I’ve been teaching this subject to college freshmen and sophomores using the Engleberg and Wynn text. Besides the idea of high-context and low-context cultures that I talked about before, there are some ideas they present about group dynamics that dovetail with some original work I did with two colleagues nearly ten years ago on the subject of community building, in face-to-face environments.
As always, it’s so amazing to see how many of the ideas that come out of face-to-face communication do indeed map coherently onto internet communication and internet fandom. Over and over I’ve been reinforced in my belief that fandom IS just like real life, only we can’t always see each other, and it’s easier to create sockpuppets!
One of the ideas my collaborators and I focused on regarding community, back then, is the fact that there always is a boundary between the community and the people who are not in the community. The boundary may be somewhat permeable or vague, but it’s there. There’s always a way to tell who’s in and who’s out. This dovetails with the Engleberg and Wynn book’s discussion of closed systems versus open systems. Groups (and communities) take in varying degrees of information from outside, depending on their purpose. A corporate board in executive session is a closed system. A city council meeting is open. A friends-locked community on LJ is more closed than someone’s personal journal if that person posts everything public and friends everyone who friends her.
All this got me thinking about how much input fandom allows from outside itself, and the ways that fandom initiates its newbies.
Fandom cred, the idea of “membership”, might depend on knowledge, on skills, on fannish creation, on self-identification, on being part of an audience, on the number of comments one makes — on a lot of things.
And being a newbie, and then watching other newbies, in the LiveJournal and Dreamwidth part of fandom has been a fascinating study of that boundary.
How do you know you’re in? Who gets to evaluate one’s participation in fandom, and the quality and value thereof?
I have more intriguing ideas than answers at this point, but again — I find it fun to use these communication models when thinking about participation in, and internet interactions in, fandom.