Monash University
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Fandom and the art of community: the role of friendship, order and interest in online community longevity

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thesis
posted on 2017-01-31, 04:46 authored by Gibbs, Amy
Online communities have existed since the internet became available, yet media and common thought suggest that they are fleeting and ephemeral, their friendships not real and their interests narrow. The online landscape that they exist in has been painted as in turn emancipating and anarchic. However, some communities do last. One such community that has been in existence for over ten years is the media fandom community on LiveJournal. What is it about this community that has allowed it to survive this long? While much research has been done on virtual community, a great deal of it occurs in short-term studies and so it is important that a longitudinal look is taken of a community that has lasted. This thesis queries what it is about this community that has led to its longevity. It asks why people are drawn to the community, what allows the space to be amenable to communication, and why people remain for long periods of time. The research hypothesises that the answers to these questions are ‘friendship,’ ‘order’ and ‘interest’. Participant-observation, aided by longitudinal qualitative data and current quantitative data from surveying, confirms that it is the interplay between the three concepts of friendship, interest and order that is central to the community’s longevity. Initial interest allows members of the community to get to know each other and form friendships and it is these friendships that increase the density of the community and strengthen participants’ sense of belonging. Long-term interest is maintained, counter-intuitively, by fluid and divergent sub-interests, yet rather than pull it apart, this acceptance of change actually reinforces the community. Throughout it all, the emergent norms of behaviour and hierarchies built from social capital keep the community space amenable to communication without impinging on individual freedoms or succumbing to chaos. This order allows the critical time needed to build trust and friendships and in turn, keeps the community strong. What is found is that life in the online fandom community is neither utopian nor dystopian; norms and hierarchies develop that regulate order, friends are real and vary in strength, and it is the widening of interests that allows for the community to last.

History

Principal supervisor

Elizabeth Coleman

Additional supervisor 1

Peter Murphy

Year of Award

2011

Department, School or Centre

English, Communications and Performance Studies

Course

Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type

DOCTORATE

Campus location

Australia

Faculty

Faculty of Arts