In this post, I summarize specific actions and communication in a fandom in a social networking space, focusing on how discourse work can be seen in their daily activities. This post shifts focus from my recent posts relating to my work in cultural heritage in digital spaces to draw out parts of my ongoing research in the US Women’s soccer team (USWNT) Tumblr fandom.
As alluded to on my landing page, I have been conducting an ethnographic, or netnographic (Kozinets, 2009), study within the social networking and microblogging site Tumblr for the last two years. I perceive Tumblr to be a unique digital space that allows individuals to “opt in” to a community of practice – one that integrates discourses of women’s sport and soccer, media, competition and nationalism, notions of gender and sexuality, and narratives of the USWNT in daily discussions.
When individuals in the USWNT fandom share, consume, and create content, they encourage a shared group affiliation (as “fans”). Their communication occurs in a flexible, asynchronous social realm. Through choices in language, timing, media, and “tone” these fans establish a series of temporary discursive spaces to explore, express, and discuss their feelings.
Communication within the wider USWNT “fandom” project
- actively teaches new users,
- rewards insider knowledges,
- allows for dissension and discussion, and
- offers opportunities for inclusion of fans, who might otherwise be isolated from fan activity
Tumblr’s structure also facilitates distinct techniques of self-expression and specific language selections shared through tags, asynchronous communication, “reblogging,” and “asks.” Fandom activity includes discourse work and content creation.
On Tumblr, USWNT fans do the following*:
- make text post updates from official US Soccer sources
- post original text posts stating feelings or opinions on the team’s performance
- post original text posts stating feelings or opinions about other people/fans in the fandom
- make and answer anonymous questions using the “Ask” feature on Tumblr
- share social media content from players – typically tweets and Instagram pictures
- share images from USWNT training sessions and games
- share images from NWSL training sessions and games
- create GIFs of moments from games
- create GIFs of informal moments from US Soccer official sources (regenerating and reworking discourse)
- create specialized graphical representations with images
- request and provide links – livestreams, presentations, videos
- request GIFs, videos, and other information from other users
- tag posts – categorizing and allowing content to be searched
- police use of the tags – specifically the tag “USWNT” – by messaging and posting “rules” of tagging
- ask for input and opinions on apparel, ticket purchases, game etiquette and moe
- discuss the fandom and their feelings of inclusion and participation in that community
As a part of this study, it has become clear that not only is the USWNT fandom shaped by a number of resources and communication practices – and there are also differences in fandom activities at different times. For example, in February, I compared the variations in language choices some fans make during a game – or when they are “livetumbling” – and in their daily circulation of posts and reblogs.
In reblogging posts, users are clearly making decisions about which components of public meaning and insider knowledge they would like to perpetuate. When a user likes or reblogs a post about Alex Morgan but ignores another post about Amy Rodriguez, they are marking out the space and value of pieces of knowledge for the fandom.
What the USWNT fandom actually discusses and creates are representations of the USWNT, players, other fans, opponents, and other popular culture narratives. As with making knowledge, representations are devised through making choices, where fans work with discourse and other cultural materials from which interpretations may be made. Mediated sport discourse, as well as USWNT fandom Tumblr disourses, provide accounts; neither reality nor clean interpretation of events. Rather, as with discourses of mediated sport, Tumblr discourses present a version of events that speaks to broader social relationships and understandings of sexuality, national identities, gender, and imply relationships of power.
Watch this space for further discussion of the implications of these strategic communication choices in the USWNT fandom.
*This is an on-going and developing list, and certainly not exhaustive at this point!