The power of fandom communities and political activism collide in Ashley Hinck’s new book “Politics for the Love of Fandom: Fan-Based Citizenship in a Digital World.”
The Creighton alumna and assistant professor of communication at Xavier University read passages from her book to students and faculty in front of the Creighton Bookstore on April 3. Hinck also held a Q&A panel and signed copies of her book after the public reading.
During her public talk, Hinck explained how different fandom communities spur their followers to engage in civic action by tying political ideology and fandom together, a phenomenon which she defines as “fan-based citizenship.”
“The fan community figures out what politics they want to emphasize. It takes work as a fan community to pull those interpretations out, turn them into values, and apply them in the real world into political action,” said Hinck. “It could change at any point.”
For example, fans of the Harry Potter series formed an activism group in 2005 called the Harry Potter Alliance. According to the group’s official website, the Harry Potter Alliance works to encourage advocacy efforts for equality, human rights and literacy among fans of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy franchise.
“It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of civic activities as silly, but fandom is a deep connection and a social thing. If this is our local community, of course it’s going to produce public action,” said Hinck.
Fan-based citizenship is not limited to pop culture and literary giants like Harry Potter, however, as Hinck found similar results with sports fandoms such as the Nebraska Huskers fan community.
In her case study on Huskers fans, Hinck examined fan involvement in the nonprofit TeamMates, a school-based mentorship organization started by former head football coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Tom Osborne. By volunteering to mentor TeamMates, Huskers fans live out values of hard work and neighborliness that are articulated in their fandom.
“I had never thought about the world of fandom and political, so I think it was really interesting to hear her take on it,” said Erika Kirby, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Creighton.
Kirby attended the talk to support Hinck, who was a former student of Kirby’s when she was an undergraduate.
Hinck said that her inspiration for exploring the connection between fandom and political action started at Creighton. As an undergrad and active participant with the Harry Potter Alliance, she became interested in how communication evolved with digital communities.
According to Hinck, her book took seven years for her to complete, including four years of fieldwork in different fandom communities. Her research includes case studies from the Harry Potter franchise, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Star Wars, LEGO and the YouTube channel Nerdfighters.
“Eventually, all of their inside lingo, all of their values, all of their social norms start to coalesce,” Hinck said. “But it takes a full year of fieldwork and engagement in these communities to figure them out.”
“I think that this is an area that’s only going to continue to expand. She has her finger on the pulse of a really interesting research theory,” Kirby said.