Working Papers

“Decreasing World Suck”: Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik

Date: Jun 1, 2013

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This report describes the mechanisms of translation through which participatory culture communities extend members’ cultural connections toward civic and political outcomes. The report asks: What mechanisms do groups use to translate cultural interests into political outcomes? What are challenges and obstacles to this translation? May some mechanisms be more conducive towards some participatory political outcomes than others?

The report addresses these questions through a comparison between two groups: the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters. The Harry Potter Alliance is a civic organization with a strong online component which runs campaigns around human rights issues, often in partnership with other advocacy and nonprofit groups; its membership skews college age and above. Nerdfighters are an informal community formed around a YouTube vlog channel; many of the participants are high school age, united by a common goal of “decreasing world suck.” These two groups have substantial overlapping membership, yet they differ in their strengths and challenges in terms of forging participatory politics around shared cultural interests.

The report discusses three mechanisms that enable such translation:

1. Tapping content worlds and communities – Scaffolding the connections that group members have through their shared passions for popular culture texts and their relationships with each other toward the development of civic identities and political agendas.

2. Creative production – Encouraging production and circulation of content, especially for political expression.

3. Informal discussion – Creating and supporting spaces and opportunities for conversations about current events and political issues.

Through these mechanisms, these two groups build on young people’s passions around popular culture and their sense of shared cultural identity in order to help them cultivate their civic identities, express themselves politically, and take action.