The 1990s saw the entrance en masse of a complex of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) into the offices and homes of middle class Americans and Northern Europeans. ICTs enabled what John Fiske calls the oral culture that surrounds and defines television to move online, staking out a sizeable terrain of cyberspace. Today thousands of Usenet newsgroups, "chats@ listservs and weblogs exist that are dedicated not only to discussions of media texts but also production of secondary texts, including fan fiction.
The popular American television series, The X-Files, first aired in September 1993, immediately garnering a loyal following of fans in alt.tv.xfiles. Within months, however, a group of female fans left the newsgroup, in part, because they were harassed and marginalized by the male participants who dominated the forum, and in part because they were tired of the high "signal to noise" ratio caused those they perceived as the Internet "masses". They formed the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigades (DDEBs), three women-only electronic mailing lists ostensibly named after the lead actor of the series. I spent a year conducting an ethnographic study with members of the DDEBs to get at some of the practices involved in creating and maintaining an on-line women-only fan community. Although the series ended its run last year and the latest demographics show that women are equally represented on the internet, the three lists continue to thrive, as do many other women-only fan lists. In 2002, I completed a second study with members of a women-centred list dedicated to the reading and writing of a genre of fiction known as "slash" in which the "straight" male characters are written as involved in romantic sexual relationships.
The overarching argument in this paper is that online fan culture continues to be organized along the faultlines of the gendered, and classed body. Yet, even when alternative communities are formed as a result of exclusions from dominant culture, exclusionary practices continue to operate. Moreover, an on-line fan community does not simply exist because people join a mailing list; it is created and maintained through the regular engagement of a specific set of practices, through which a Asubstance@ of community is created. The status of an on-line community is therefore provisional, a collection of identities whose arrangement shifts with the ebb and flow of interaction. This paper is, in short, an overview of key findings on the processes of online identifications and community making that take place in the cyberspaces of a university-educated female fandom. As such, I wish it to serve as an introduction of my work to the A(o)IR community. As well, by using post-structuralist and feminist theory and a post-positivist approach to ethnography, it serves to push the boundaries of scholarship on identity and community.
About the Author(s)
Rhiannon Bury is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She currently conducts ethnographic research on online media fandom.
Alphabetical list of papers, by author
Alphabetical list of panels