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Critical Fan Toolkit (CFT)

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Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

The Critical Fan Toolkit (CFT) is an open, public, digital dissertation; it provides a collection of resources and data for fans, teachers, and researchers who are invested in integrating critical fan practices into their everyday compositions, teaching, and research. This toolkit defines a critical fan as a fan of any cultural material or icon(s) who challenges or subverts systems of oppression–such as racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, homophobia, and ableism–through their everyday fan engagements, such as writing/reading fanfiction, posting on forums, and creating fan art. 

This project is invested specifically in fanfiction and fan genres that subvert hegemonic narratives both in the original cultural materials as well as in the fan genres, themselves. Because of this, the data collected and the resources created center around critical fans’ writing and genre practices. The data collected are a large corpus of published fanfiction as well as interviews of fan writers. The resources are pedagogical materials created based on findings from the data collection, invitations for people to engage with the data, and larger scholarship in fan studies and writing studies. 

The data collected and analyzed is approximately 30,000 fanfictions published on Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction publishing site. The fanfiction written is from two fandoms: The Legend of Korra and Game of Thrones. While The Legend of Korra show challenges heteronormativity and white supremacy, Game of Thrones does the opposite. Through the analysis of both fanfiction corpora, larger patterns demonstrate that fan practices mirror the ideological patterns in the show.

Because the CFT is invested in critical fan practices, six critical fans who published in one of the corpora–so who either wrote Game of Thrones or The Legend of Korra fanfic–were interviewed. These interviews demonstrate how these writers resist harmful hegemonic narratives by: racebending characters to be part of their own culture and ethnicity; wrestling with the complications of mental health, anxiety, and depression; researching about the content they want to write about; and refusing to participate in racist fanfiction genre conventions. 

While the data analysis–both the large corpus and interview data–are central for the CFT, the CFT also provides resources that instructors, workshop leaders, and anyone in a teaching role may use to incorporate critical fan pedagogies in their everyday practices. The CFT defines “critical fan pedagogy” as “cultivating and strengthening critical awareness through participating in fan genres and communities. This participation is a form of praxis, or the embodiment of theory in practice; praxis is central to fan communities, as there are fan politics and theories that shape community building and participation.” The teaching materials include syllabi, assignments, and activities that may be scaled for different contexts.

This project is Cara Marta Messina’s digital, public dissertation and is still currently a work in progress as of June 2020.

Principal Investigator

Cara Marta Messina, Graduate Student, English

Publications and Conferences

Messina, Cara Marta. “Tracing Fan Uptakes: Tagging, Language, and Ideological Practices in The Legend of Korra Fanfictions.” The Journal of Writing Analytics, vol 3., 2019.  

Messina, Cara Marta. “Fan Composing as Digital Activism: Transformative Representations of Gender, Sexuality, and Race in Fanfiction.” Computers and Writing. East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. Canceled due to COVID-19.

Messina, Cara Marta. “Critical Fan Toolkit: Building a Digital, Public Rhetoric, and Composition Dissertation.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Milwaukee, WI. 2020. Canceled due to COVID-19 

Messina, Cara Marta. “Reimagining Romance: The Legend of Korra Critical Fandom Practices.” Association for Computers and Humanities. Pittsburgh, PA. July 2019. 

Messina, Cara Marta. “Tracing Fan Uptakes with Computational Text Analysis.” Computers and Writing. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. June 2019. 

Messina, Cara Marta.  “Fans as Stakeholders: Legitimizing Fan Uptakes and Genres.” International Conference on Writing Analytics. University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL. January 2019.

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