Hirsjarvi, Irma. Faniuden siirtymia: Suomalaisen science fiction fandomin verkostot [Mediations of Fandom: The Networking of Finnish Science Fiction Fandom].
How did the international idea of sf fandom generate the Finnish fandom network, and what cultural and personal meanings are connected to this process? This is the overall question Irma Hirsjarvi asks in her revised doctoral dissertation. Her research follows the traditions of cultural public and reception studies; specifically, the study of fandoms, while sf is understood in a broad sense as a multimedia cultural phenomenon. The study is a multilevel analysis of Finnish sf-fandom. On the individual level, it is about becoming a fan, joining fandom, and the personal meanings of fandom; on the social level, it is about the collective activities of fandom and its internal differences, especially those between genders and generations. On the cultural level, it concerns the negotiations and definition of limits of cultural institutions within the fandom, and the transfer of international traditions and their local transformations.
Hirsjarvi starts with a critical review of existent research, documents the history and present state of the sf genre and fandom in Finland, and presents a detailed analysis of her own empirical data, ending with a theoretical summary of findings. The theoretical part of the book is a rich collection of views on fandom and of possible research standpoints that is informative as a review. The study combines several kinds of data: there is an impressive amount of both printed and electronic documentation of the history and state of the sf genre and fandom in Finland; and to explore the meanings, experiences, and concrete activities, the study includes face-to-face interviews with open-ended questions of twenty-five active fandom members (selected by local chairpersons of sf societies), plus written thematic texts from five persons.
Hirsjarvi reviews the formation of Finnish sf fandom from the 1950s to the present. There exists, of course, both Finnish and translated pre-1950 literature, which from the present viewpoint appears to be the early roots of sf. But as a separate genre, modern sf emerged in Finland at the beginning of the 1950s, when it started to be published and marketed in mass scale, especially as YA fiction. The process was accompanied with a lively press debate, much influenced by contemporary Swedish discussion of the position and status of sf. Contrary to the common first impression, Hirsjarvi finds that the dispute basically was not about sf versus "higher culture," but about the thematic profile of sf as either the literature of technological optimism or the literature of social critique and "the weird."
The early development of Finnish sf fandom, however, was cut tragically short because a traffic accident killed the key person when the nucleus of fandom had just started to organize. It took two decades to start again. Hirsjarvi names four organizing periods: the Proto-Generation, the first, abortive fandom in the 1950s; the Dinosaurs of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the Next Generation from the 1990s; and the current New Generation where the use of social media is a decisive factor in Internet communities. The names and periods seem well justified, the "Dinosaurs" actually being a self-adopted honorary title by the key figures of that generation, while the name "Next Generation" winks at the sf scene through an obvious allusion to the Star Trek franchise. The generation breaks also display some interesting hierarchies and occasional conflicts with heated arguments, as well as cases of building a "fannish" identity. All of these offer interesting possibilities for later detailed analysis.
Nowadays, sf fandom in Finland forms a country-wide community and has created its own societies, Web pages, public events, competitions, magazines, and review systems. Most literary influences come from the English language area, but there is systematic contact with the fandom from other Nordic countries. It's easy to list certain special concrete practices that are specific to Finnish fandom (such as organizing--even large scale--events free for the general public, the rather intensive cooperation between local centers, and openness to newcomers), but it would be interesting to explore further to what extent they show any homologies with the wider Finnish culture.
For a closer study of Finnish sf fans and their active networks, Hirsjarvi has chosen the model of Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst as her main theoretical tool. The model categorizes fans as Consumers, Fans, Cultists, Enthusiasts, and Petty Producers, according to their activity level and relation to their object. Hirsjarvi combines the categories with the model of Suzanne Lacy, which was originally used to sketch the relationship of an artist to society. Lacy's model names the positions of Experiencer, Reporter, Analyst, and Activist, and it brings the themes of resistance to commercial exploitation and criticism by the fans into the analysis. Hirsjarvi also criticizes her chosen Abercrombie and Longhurst model for falling short of the empirical reality of fandom life that she sees in her own data. For instance, there is no space in the model for the different fandom generations and their social development; neither does it take into account the quick creation and turbulence of new cultures.
However, it seems that just these shortcomings in the original model catalyse a process of new thinking in the researcher, and she indeed manages to bring life into the labels with her multidimensional interpretation of the different possibilities of realizing one's fandom. Her idea is that the experience of fandom should be seen in continuous movement and changing of positions. One could say that Hirsjarvi starts with a segment-of-a-line-model, where each fan is positioned at a definite point, but she ends up with a model of several intersecting orbits, where any fan may be seen as a point of continuous movement jumping from one orbit to another. Thus, a fan can be simultaneously or successively Experiencer, Analyst, Reporter, and Activist, and changes her/his role according to whether s/he is in the position of a Consumer or Producer. Instead of one-dimensional lines with points where single fan types are deployed, we get dynamic expert networks that pass on cultural meanings and impressions.
Based on her interview material, Hirsjarvi lists several aspects that make fandom meaningful to the fan. The meanings of being a fan are connected to the way sf widens and explains one's view of the world: the genre satisfies a wish to imagine and understand future or strange worlds, provides a way to treat everyday problems by thought experiments, and, at its best, gives the famous sense-of-wonder. The social experiences of fandom include participating in fandom activity as subjective experience, one's own social networks, and the continuity of fandom generations--even one's own children as future members of fandom--and creative activities connected to the genre such as creative writing, writer training, organizing of literary contests, events, and discussion. All these increase the professionalization and expertise for both an individual fan and in the fandom as a whole.
Of the central concepts used in the research, the aspects related to the production and consumption activities by fandom are most thoroughly analyzed, as are also the sf fen as active agents, fandom communities, and communal spirit. The relationship between fandom and religious experiences merits a lengthy discussion in the theoretical part, but the theme is played down in the empirical part, understandably so since the results do not support any connection to the Finnish fandom experience. Concepts such as affect relations and identity figure in the theoretical introduction but are only occasionally used as working concepts in the analysis, although Hirsjarvi actually would have quite a lot of relevant information about these in her reported empirical data.
Hirsjarvi pays special attention to the question of how the experience of gender has changed within the Finnish fandom. During the pre-history of Finnish fandom, the field was defined as strongly masculine--no difference there to the international situation. A generation later, at the end of the 1980s, the gender issue became topical as discrimination experienced by the fandom's women, leading to intensely critical discussion in the fandom's media and events. A couple of decades later, at the beginning of the new millennium when Hirsjarvi collected her material, she noticed that gender discourse seemed to be missing in the interviews. She quickly corrected the situation by getting new feedback about that issue, displaying both methodological adaptability and insightful self-criticism. She wonders why she did not take the problem up from the start, and sees as one explanation a wish to avoid conflicts, since the earlier problem--of which she was well aware--had by now been bypassed among the Finnish fandom. In any case, Hirsjarvi shows how the genre at present creates a moving multidimensional space for understanding gender and sexuality, and how the texts and documents show this now to be prevalent in the Finnish fandom, whatever the interviewee's gender.
As is evident from the above, an important aspect of the study is the researcher's position as both fan and researcher. Hirsjarvi discusses that on several occasions: reviewing earlier fan research; explaining the process of choosing her interviewees and the success of the interviews, in connection with the themes of the interview and their interpretation; and finally when she critiques her own research process. Altogether the text shows the researcher's ability to reflect critically on her own position and activity as researcher, and her way of communicating this to the reader is exemplary.
The Finnish case shows how in sf the genre and its fandom are part of the same cultural process. Fandoms do not exist somewhere outside a genre per se; instead, they function and develop in mutual interaction.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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