My project seeks to explore how fan podcasts provide a social learning context in informal digital spaces. Specifically, I want to investigate how podcasts created by fans from groups which are under-represented or misrepresented in mainstream media and culture use the fictional framework of their favourite media texts to raise awareness about intersectionality and enable the development of critical literacy.
My research questions are:
- How can online fan podcasts act as sites of public pedagogy?
- How may these sites offer opportunities to express and access intersectional perspectives?
- In what ways may critical literacies develop in these spaces?
My hybrid methodology is inspired by fandom’s collective knowledge-making culture. This methodology uses elements from online ethnography, collaborative ethnography (Lassiter, 2005), autoethnography (Bochner and Ellis, 2006; Evans and Stasi, 2014; Kahl Jr, 2011), and feminist participatory and dialogic research methodologies (Stacey, 1988). My online ethnography draws from virtual ethnography (Hine, 2015), digital ethnography (Ardévol and Gómez-Cruz, 2012) netnography (Kozinets, 2015), and cyberethnography (Robinson and Schulz, 2009). This hybrid methodology allows me to collaboratively create knowledge with my co-participants and aims to minimise the imbalanced power hierarchy between me as the researcher and my co-participants.
WHAT AM I GOING TO STUDY?
I will use fan podcasts to both investigate and demonstrate practise-based examples of public pedagogy, intersectionality, and critical literacy in online spaces.
Secondary Data Part I
I will use a selection of Doctor Who and Harry Potter fan podcasts as sources of literature which will be discussed and analysed on my own podcast. All the shortlisted podcast episodes will feature one or more hosts in conversation with each other or with guests. Engaging in dialogue and examining an issue from multiple perspectives is an essential step towards critical literacy. Additionally, one or more co-hosts or guests will be from those backgrounds which are marginalised in mainstream media and/or within fandom. This reflects the project’s focus on intersectionality. I will also use the podcast websites to contact the podcast hosts and invite them to discuss their experiences and observations of marginalisation within mainstream media and fandom. This will be in the form of semi-structured interviews and will provide context-building secondary data.
The podcasts include Fansplaining, Woke Doctor Who, #WizardTeam, Terminus, Witch, Please, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, and Who Watch: Time and Relative Blackness in Space among others.
Image sources: Klink and Minkel, no date; radiantbaby, no date; Zoltan and ter Kuile, no date; Woke Doctor Who, no date; Davis and Jordan, no date; Marcelle and Hannah, no date; Jordan et al., no date
Much like most scholarship about intersectionality, fandom, critical literacy, and public pedagogy, the above-mentioned fan podcasts mainly emerge from the U.S. and the UK. In order to diversify the discourse within and beyond Western contexts, I will create my own fan podcast supplemented by this research blog. These podcast episodes will provide the project’s primary data. The podcast and blog offer a way to include a diverse range of fan voices with different experiences and interests who are situated beyond purely academic and Western contexts.
Secondary Data Part II
Additionally, to reflect the project’s collaborative ethos, I will actively seek comments, critiques, suggestions and interpretations from both academic and non-academic audiences who are following the project online. I will invite multiple interpretations and conclusions through text comments on the blog and/or through audio clips emailed to me. This ongoing feedback will be incorporated into my fan podcast and in the final thesis as secondary data.
WHY HARRY POTTER AND DOCTOR WHO?
I’m using the framework of Harry Potter and Doctor Who fan podcasts for two main reasons. As a fan of both, I can draw on my scholarly and fannish identities while studying the digital fan spaces. Secondly, while both texts have been produced in the UK, they are globally popular and have massive fandoms. This attracts fans from diverse backgrounds who highlight their identities, interests, and experiences in the fan texts they create and share.
The project draws on my own experiences and encounters in fandom and uses that to investigate other fan experiences. Employing my dual identities of fan and researcher will allow me to develop more in-depth, nuanced, and contextualised insights (Duffet, 2013; Hellekson and Busse, 2006; Jenkins, 2012). I will also actively try to balance both my fannish and academic allegiances. As Will Brooker (Stein, 2011) cautions, when researchers attempt to make their work comprehensible to non-academic audiences, they should not ignore the process of producing a critically and theoretically rigorous text.
ONLINE ETHNOGRAPHY FOR SECONDARY DATA
Following online ethnographic guidelines, I will immerse myself in the fan podcast community by being an active listener of the podcasts. I will construct the field by shortlisting those episodes which are relevant to my intersectional themes. My field will also include the blogs, newsletters, and social media pages of the podcasts. My field may extend beyond these sites if the podcast hosts or guests recommend relevant fan texts. I will make fieldnotes in a research journal throughout the process of collecting secondary data (Burrell, 2017; Condie et al., 2017; Evans and Stasi, 2014; Hines, 2017). When/if I have conversations with podcast hosts, the accompanying fieldnotes will be added to my secondary data. Finally, I will make fieldnotes while re-visiting the Harry Potter and Doctor Who series, which will also build my secondary data. I will initially make the fieldnotes in a research journal. Next, I will regularly synthesise these fieldnotes and share them as blog posts on my PhD blog once every week.
FAN PODCAST FORMAT FOR PRIMARY DATA
My fan podcast will provisionally be divided into two episodes per month over a period of ten months – a total of twenty episodes. Each episode will last 30-45 minutes. Each month will explore a different intersectional theme. The themes might intersect with each other during discussions and analyses, but a single overarching theme will provide the framework for fortnightly podcast episodes. The current list of themes is: gender, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, national/regional origin, class, disability, and age. However, I am open to feedback on these themes from my co-participants or other followers of the project based on which I will edit or expand this list. I will use Skype to record the podcasts. Besides a Skype account, my co-participants will need access to the audio technology required to record a podcast online (a microphone and a computer, a laptop with a microphone, or a smartphone, and an internet connection).
One episode per month will be a discussion group with two Indian female friends who will be my co-hosts over a period of ten months. Both of them identify as fans and we frequently engage in fan-related conversations in ways which are not traditionally explored in the field of fan studies. This reflects my autoethnographic approach to the project and highlights co-construction of knowledge and multiple interpretations through dialogue. Our long-term collaboration featuring three Indian women fans – one academic, two non-academic – discussing fandom through our experiences and interpretations of intersectionality will provide detailed and nuanced insights into an oft-unseen expression of fan perspectives. Furthermore, this seeks to expand the scholarship within fan studies, public pedagogy, critical literacy, and intersectionality which largely focus on issues and populations in the U.S. and Europe.
Another episode per month will be a conversation with different guests from diverse backgrounds who are located within or beyond Western contexts. Each guest will appear on a single episode, although there may be room for more than one guest on the episode. Based on their identities, interests, experiences, and perspectives, we will decide which themed episode they will appear on (for example, race and fandom, disability and fandom, religion and fandom, etc.). Including a diverse range of guests will provide insights into their multiple experiences and perspectives of marginalisation. I will also explore how/if the experiences of fans from marginalised backgrounds colour the ways in which they interpret their favourite fictional texts. Intersectional scholarship mainly tends to focus on the oppressed social categories of gender, race, and class. My fan podcast aims to invite a broader range of marginalised perspectives – based on the intersectional themes mentioned above – which are often overlooked in discussions of intersectionality. This will enable me to include fans from both India and abroad whose experiences are not always visible in discussions of intersectionality and fandom.
I will co-create a format with my co-hosts and guests for each episode. Prior to the recording of each episode, my co-participants and I will exchange fan texts (fanfiction, videos, essays, memes, fan art etc.) or a book chapter, movie scene or TV show episode based on the particular intersectional theme. My contribution will be the fan podcast episodes I have previously shortlisted as secondary data. While I’m using Harry Potter and Doctor Who texts, my co-participants can include other fictional worlds they’re fans of too – though we both need to be familiar with each other’s fandoms in order to understand the context. These texts will act as the framework for discussion and analysis during the episode and will also prompt conversations about our own ideas and experiences.
Moreover, this format will allow us to engage in democratic dialogue with each other with room for different opinions and interpretations, rather than an interview format where I as the researcher would have controlled the direction of the conversation and my singular interpretation would have been privileged (Gajjala et al., 2018; Fortun et al., 2017). This participatory and dialogic method aims to involve my co-participants in the decision-making process and highlight their voices in the research. In this way, my project seeks to create counternarratives which provide opportunities for those groups who are otherwise marginalised to engage collectively with knowledge and culture in ways which matter to them (Dittmar and Annas, 2017; McLaren, 2010; Quayle et al., 2016). Through the conversations between my co-participants and me, we can learn from each other’s skills and experiences, and collectively engage in producing knowledge (Beck, 2011; Rosenberg, 2000; Sandlin et al., 2011). The multiple types of data will also ensure that I’m not overly reliant on a single interpretation (Gajjala et al., 2018).
My podcast will be hosted on this research blog and be accompanied by text transcripts of the episodes, reading/viewing/listening lists of the fan texts we discuss, and any additional resources mentioned in the episode. The Screw Season 10 episode of Woke Doctor Who provides an example of the kinds of conversations I hope to have on my own fan podcast. Woke Doctor Who is co-hosted by a black American woman and an East-Asian American woman who discuss issues of race and representation in Doctor Who. In the linked episode, the two discuss the tenth series of the show and draw on their personal experiences and prior knowledge to explore the superficial representation of historical racism and classism, the use of aliens to depict racism rather than real people of colour, draw connections to contemporary real-life social and political events in the U.S. and the UK, and criticise the lack of diversity in the writer’s room which results in hugely problematic portrayals of characters of colour on the show.
AUTOETHNOGRAPHIC ENGAGEMENT WITH DATA
I will complement these methods with self-reflexive autoethnography in order to reflect on my own experiences in the context of the larger social, cultural and political environments in which they occur. This will also allow me to critically analyse my subjective position, my interpretations, my choices and assumptions in an open and transparent way. Scholars suggest that autoethnography makes ideas accessible to those who are unfamiliar with academic jargon (Bochner and Ellis, 2006; Duffet, 2013; Evans and Stasi, 2014; Kahl Jr, 2011). Tressie McMillan Cottom proposes that online posts and interactions among participants can be considered as “digitally mediated autoethnographic narratives” (2016: p. 215). Through this lens, fan podcasts and conversations with fans can be seen as autoethnographic narratives that highlight those viewpoints which may be missing from mainstream conversations. This lens allows me to place fan podcasts and fans’ collective-meaning making processes at the forefront and to trouble my researcher’s position of privilege (Cottom, 2016).
HOW WILL I INVITE CO-PARTICIPANTS?
For the discussion group in my own podcast, I have already identified two friends from India. I will provide them with information about the project, what participation entails, the time commitment and risks involved, and finally ask them to sign a consent form.
To recruit guests, I will advertise my research interests, include the provisional list of intersectional themes mentioned, and a link to my blog. I will rely on snowball sampling by sharing this within my own network of friends and acquaintances on social media. I am specifically looking for fans from backgrounds which are under-represented or misrepresented in mainstream media and culture who can discuss their experiences with source texts and with fandom. Apart from my personal acquaintances, I have also made contacts with potential participants at conferences and conventions during my first year as a PGR. I will contact them directly with my participant recruitment material. I will also encourage people to share this information with their own networks.
Provisionally, I will recruit between 12 and 20 co-participants (2 co-hosts and 10 guests; one guest per fortnightly episode with room for more guests on the episode). Recruitment of participants will be an ongoing process. I will begin advertising my requirements before my fieldwork begins. However, while I hope a significant portion of co-participants are decided at this stage, I will keep the recruitment process open throughout the ten months of the podcast, so as to reach a larger, more diverse group of fans.
HOW WILL I ANALYSE MY INFORMATION?
I want to explore the intersectional themes of race, gender, gender identity and expression, class, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, national/regional origin, age, and disability. Analysis will be an ongoing feature throughout the duration of the project. The first stage will consist of collective analysis where my co-participants and I will analyse fan texts and fictional media texts together in our podcast episodes. Here, we will be using our own experiences, perspectives, and conversations with each other to construct interpretations. This will be supplemented by any feedback from followers of the project.
The next stage will occur once all the podcast episodes have been recorded. I will employ inductive thematic analysis to study all the conversations on my podcast (Braun and Clarke, 2006; Nowell et al., 2017; Vaismoradi et al., 2013). I will analyse the podcast episodes with an intersectional lens. I will specifically look for the ways in which different intersectional themes are discussed (or not) based on shifting local and global contexts. I will also use my secondary data and intersectional scholarship to provide more detailed and nuanced context.
Once this stage is done, I will draw on collaborative ethnographic practices and share my analyses with my co-participants i.e. all the fans who appeared as guests and co-hosts on my podcast for their feedback. I will then invite them to participate in a round-table discussion on one or two epilogue episodes. These epilogue episodes will offer them an opportunity to provide their interpretations and critiques. Those who are unable to participate in the epilogue episodes will be able to provide their feedback via email, text message, or by recording their comments. Blog readers and podcast listeners can also contribute their own comments. These will be incorporated into the epilogue episodes too.
Even participatory projects feature unequal power dynamics because eventually, I still control the project (Braun and Clarke, 2006; Buckingham, 2009; Evans and Stasi, 2014; Stacey, 1988). I am inviting participants to co-create texts and to read and comment on my analysis to decrease this imbalance (Ardévol and Gómez-Cruz, 2012; Lassiter, 2005). This will further ensure that I won’t solely rely on my own interpretations. I will engage in ongoing dialogue with my co-participants at all stages of the research process and incorporate their voices into the final thesis.
HOW WILL I PRESENT MY INFORMATION?
If an alternative format for my final thesis is permitted, I am considering using extracts from the original podcast episodes combined with the epilogue episodes to present the analyses. This will be accompanied by a written component on the blog which will be specifically indicated to be a part of the final thesis. Technically, the entire blog and podcast demonstrate the thesis – but together they might surpass the 100,000 word limit. My thesis examiners can refer to any podcast episodes and blog posts they wish to, but they don’t have to do this in order to examine the project. The audio medium of the podcast and the multimodal text on the blog can explain my research in everyday terms, elaborate necessary arguments, make the format more accessible and inclusive to audiences outside academia, provide a theoretical framework to contextualise the practice-based aspects of the dissertation, and enable self-reflexive analysis and critical commentary (Andrews and England, 2012; Dix, 2016; Harris, 2010; Harrison, 2014; Stansbie, 2012; Zak, 2014).
HOW WILL I STRUCTURE AND STORE MY INFORMATION?
Since my project features public domain research, all the data will be openly available online. While I initially planned to host the blog and podcast on a free WordPress website, I’m consulting the ethics review committee whether the digital project should instead be stored on the university servers for the duration of my PhD studies.
The audio files of the podcast will be uploaded onto my blog. They will be accompanied by a synopsis of the content of each episode and a text transcript of the episode. All blog posts will be divided into relevant categories. Each post will also have a series of tags which further describe the themes and topics being discussed. All the data which is generated and studied will be available on the project blog. My analysis and the development of my thinking and research will also be documented online.
I am also consulting with the ethics committee whether the files can be recorded/written and saved on the university servers using my personal off-campus laptop. I will create dated folders to store files in chronological order. Within these dated folders, I will create categorical folders such as Fieldnotes, Podcast Episodes, Analysis, Co-Participant Conversations etc. I will systematically name and date individual files in all folders.
The research journal for my fieldnotes will be structured both chronologically and thematically. I will make separate sections for the different intersectional themes I’m exploring. Within each theme, I will have sub-categories for fan podcasts, conversations with podcast hosts, observation of podcast blog/newsletter/social media, conversations with co-participants, and review of the Harry Potter and Doctor Who series.
Since I’m proposing an unconventional digital thesis format, I will need to consult the library on both short-term and long-term storage and retrieval of my data on the university servers. Based on my supervisor’s advice, I may be able to install a plugin on my blog which will enable me to download a zip file of the entire blog. This zip file can then be uploaded to a separate password-protected blog site for thesis submission and examination. This will be helpful because it will provide a snapshot of the blog as it appears on the day of submission. Meanwhile, this blog will continue to be active where it may attract further comments and engagement. It may be possible to store this zip file on the university servers for future access. Alternatively, I can use run a PDF writing program to convert my blog into a PDF file and submit this to the university.
Complex distinctions between what counts as public versus private space in online contexts means that even when fan podcasts are easily accessible to everyone, they may still be meant for a limited group of people (Hine, 2015; Knobel, 2003; Rutter and Smith, 2005; Townsend and Wallace, 2017; Williams et al., 2017). There’s also the risk of drawing unwanted attention and scrutiny to these fan podcasts (Busse, 2017). I will approach the fan podcasters with details about my project and ask them to tell me if they don’t want their podcast to be included as secondary data in my research.
For my primary data, I will employ context-dependent situational ethics by having an ongoing dialogue with my co-participants about ethical considerations throughout the duration of the project and not just at the beginning (Halford, 2017; James and Busher, 2015; Mathieu et al., 2016; Mayne, 2016; Williams et al., 2017). I will be open and transparent about the intersectional aims of my project right from the recruitment stage (Beninger et al., 2014; Fathallah, 2016; Knobel, 2003). Due to the project’s underlying theme of co-construction of knowledge, I anticipate that my co-participants and I will influence each other’s opinions and interpretations. My project engages with public domain research and emphasises openness and transparency throughout the research process and with the research data. This open access plays an integral part of the project since it seeks to invite feedback from both academic and non-academic audiences online in order to propose multiple interpretations and conclusions. In my project’s collaborative ethnographic approach, the participants play an important role in co-creation of knowledge through dialogue and their inputs will be attributed.
I will inform participants about the accessible and online nature of my project during the recruitment stage. I will be collecting and sharing a limited amount of personal data from my participants – their names and any marginalised group they identify with which is relevant to the intersectional theme of the podcast (race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation etc.). Participants will also have the option to adopt pseudonyms. In this case, no names will be stored or shared, but details of any self-identified marginalised identity will be. However, if participants do decide to adopt a pseudonym and simultaneously reveal some details of their personal identities, someone they know might listen to them on the podcast and recognise them. In online research projects, anonymisation and privacy are difficult to guarantee due to current and future technological advances (Dawson, 2014; Ginnis, 2017; Henderson et al., 2013; Townsend and Wallace, 2017). I will ensure participants are aware of and comfortable with this risk before they agree to participate.
Intersectionality which draws on the fans’ own experiences may be a sensitive topic to discuss wherein participants may be uncomfortable, emotional and/or upset. During the recruitment process, I will clarify the focus of my project. Before potential co-participants appear on my podcast, we will discuss what we’re going to talk about and whether they’re comfortable talking about these issues. One of the biggest ethical concerns is that digital projects featuring people from marginalised groups may attract the attention of online trolls. My podcast will be hosted on my blog where the settings require me to approve of any comments before they appear on the blog. I will reject any comments which involve targeted harassment of my co-participants, me, or marginalised groups in general. When I share podcast episodes on my social media profiles, I will also delete any abusive comments if they crop up. However, if co-participants or followers of the project share the blog posts or podcast episodes in social media spaces beyond my control, I will be unable to monitor the comments there. I will ensure that my co-participants are aware of this risk and comfortable with their level of involvement prior to the recording of the episode.
My participant recruitment material will direct potential participants to my research blog. Here, I will have information in both text and audio form about what participation in the project entails in terms of their rights and responsibilities. Apart from the risks involved, the information will also include details about the type of participation, duration, setting, how the data and discussion will be used, and the right to refuse to participate or withdraw from participation (Knobel, 2003; Salmons, 2017). We will decide when the episode will be recorded at a later stage. Potential participants will be encouraged to discuss the project with me or to request clarifications and further details before agreeing to participate. Once potential participants have read this and agree to participate, I will send them an informed consent form.
I will attempt to address and resolve any ethical issues as they arise by having open and transparent conversations with my co-participants. Since the project explores intersectionality in ways which draw on fans’ own marginalised experiences, I will constantly seek and gauge my co-participants’ well-being. Once the episode has been recorded, I will check that they’re at ease about our topics of conversation and about this being shared online. With regards to the conversations we have before and after the podcast episode has been recorded, I will ask their explicit permission in case I want to use extracts of the conversations in my research. Thus, I will draw on the process of situational ethics by having ongoing conversations with my co-participants throughout their involvement in my project.