Kristina Busse

Abstract for Ethics and Fan Studies

Workshop SCMS (March 2015)

Participants: Kristina Busse, Francesca Coppa, Louisa Stein, Gregory Steirer

This workshop examines the ethical issues confronting fan studies scholars in their research and teaching. We bring together scholars from multiple disciplines to speak about the ethical concerns they encounter in their work as they research and teach contemporary and historical fandom. Our aim is to foster a conversation among participants and attendees, laying the groundwork for a flexible and dynamic code of best practices for fan scholars.

Fans establish strict ethical codes of conduct within their communities, including use of pseudonyms and sometimes-unstated expectations of privacy in seemingly public online spaces. Fan studies scholars often strive to respect such expectations, stated or not. These concerns come in conflict with disciplinary citation requirements, as the demand to acknowledge individual authorship often requires exact bibliographic information.

As fan community norms shift, some fans are moving toward expectations of increased visibility. The fan created not-for-profit Organization for Transformative Works lobbies for the cultural and legal value of fan work. Fan-authored sites such as Fanlore establish guidelines for researching and teaching fandom. Expectations differ depending on community and interface, and are constantly evolving within changing cultural contexts. Thus the increased accessibility of fan works online offers its own challenges to fan researchers.

"First do no harm" remains a vital rule in any research that contains human subject research, but the expectations of university administrators, fellow academics, and fellow fans may differ widely regarding what constitutes harm and also whether textual artifacts constitute human subjects. Likewise, teachers of fan studies aim to protect fan communities and aid students learning, and these concerns may conflict. In addition, historical fan research presents its own ethical questions regarding narrative framing, documentation and citation, and self-positioning.

The workshop brings together scholars of media history, media industry, video games, literature, and contemporary popular culture. Drawing from IRB demands and AOIR guidelines on the one hand and personal experience as fans, academics, and industry liaisons on the other, our intent is to showcase the challenges and opportunities present as we strive to engage ethically with fellow fans, scholars, and students, and the many intersections these groups encompass.