In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fan Studies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Methodology
  • Anthologies
  • Journals, Blogs, and Wikis
  • Overviews of Specific Fandoms
  • Documentaries
  • Historical Perspectives
  • Roots of Fan Studies
  • Foundational Works
  • Learning through Fandom
  • Fan Activism

Cinema and Media Studies Fan Studies
Henry Jenkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0027


Fan studies is a field of scholarly research focused on media fans and fan cultures. Fans might be broadly defined as individuals who maintain a passionate connection to popular media, assert their identity through their engagement with and mastery over its contents, and experience social affiliation around shared tastes and preferences. Fan cultures are the social and cultural infrastructures that support fan activities and interests. In a narrower sense, fandom sometimes refers to a shared cultural space that emerged from science fiction fandom in the early 20th century, which was reshaped by Star Trek fans in the 1960s and which has since expanded to incorporate forms of cultural production mostly by women around genre entertainment. Within fan studies, there has often been a split between those who focus on individual fans and those who study a larger community. The roots of fan studies can be traced back to early work in the Birmingham cultural studies tradition on media audiences but increasingly fan studies focuses on groups and individuals who have self-defined as fans of particular programs, performers, genres, and media as opposed to audiences that have a more casual relationship to the content of popular media. Fan studies began as the study of fan reception but has increasingly been recentered around forms of fan cultural production, especially as new forms of digital culture have rendered participatory culture practices more visible. One key dividing line in fan studies is between predigital and digital era accounts, although many argue that fans have been early adopters of communication technologies and that their social and cultural practices, forged more around affinities than geographies, prefigure more contemporary forms of virtual or online communities. Apart from a section on key works that informed the early development of fan studies, most cited works here explicitly address fan studies issues and concerns, rather than deal with closely related studies of exhibition, reception, consumption, celebrity culture, transmedia entertainment, and audiences. The focus here is on works that contribute to the larger conceptual models that have emerged in fan studies as a specific theoretical and methodological tradition. Included works focus primarily on fans of film and television rather than of popular fiction, games, sports, or music although exceptions are made where such work has been widely embraced by others working in the fan studies tradition. This bibliography starts with a consideration of how the phenomenon of fandom developed out of earlier historic practices (see Historical Perspectives), followed by an exploration of how fan studies emerged as its own, specific field out of earlier works on media audiences and subcultures (see Roots of Fan Studies and Foundational Works). Next, this bibliography focuses on how scholars have analyzed fan communities as sites of interpretation and evaluation (see Fan Taste), production (see Fan Production), and social and economic exchange (see Online Communities and the Digital Economy). Subsequent sections consider fandom’s potential contributions to education (see Learning through Fandom) and politics (see Fan Activism), both topics that have surfaced in more recent research within fan studies. Finally, this bibliography adopts a more global perspective, dealing especially with work that examines the Otaku Culture of Japan, highlighting its similarities to and differences from Western fan practices.

General Overviews

Many early works in fan studies (see Bacon-Smith 1992 and Jenkins 1992, both cited under Foundational Works) sought to describe the full scope and range of fan cultural production, but there has been an increasing focus over time on more specialized accounts of specific fan communities and practices. Booth 2010, Hills 2002, Sandvoss 2005, Staiger 2005, and Tulloch and Jenkins 1995 provide overviews of the existing body of fan theory and research while advancing and illustrating their own conceptual models. Bacon-Smith 2000 describes the history and sociology of the science fiction fan community, expanding on the author’s earlier work—which focuses on female fans—to also consider male fan interests. Jenkins 2006 uses fan reception and production as starting points for a more far-reaching account of how media gets produced and consumed in an era of participatory culture, collective intelligence, and networked communication. Core debates here center on whether the focus of fan studies should be on individuals or communities, whether the focus should be on meaning-construction or affect and pleasure, and whether fans should be seen as different from mainstream audiences by degree or by kind. Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998 develops a taxonomy for examining the different kinds of fan investments.

  • Abercrombie, Nicholas, and Brian Longhurst. Audiences: A Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination. London: SAGE, 1998.

    Describes fandom as an intermediate space between consumption and production; develops a continuum of possible consumer identities, distinguishing among fans, cultists, and enthusiasts.

  • Bacon-Smith, Camille. Science Fiction Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

    Sustained consideration of the fan community around science fiction literature and its relationship to the companies that help sustain the genre. Provides insight into the ways fandom has historically functioned here as a training ground for professional authors. Key backdrop for understanding media science fiction fan cultures.

  • Booth, Paul. Digital Fandom: New Media Studies. New York: Lang, 2010.

    Using the alternate reality game as a central metaphor, explores the “playfulness” of contemporary digital culture with a strong focus on wikis, role play, and the “digi-gratis” economy that has emerged around online fandom.

  • Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Explores and models a range of different theoretical and methodological approaches to fan studies. Includes a critique of what Hills sees as the rationalist bias of early work in the field. Attempts to reclaim the roles of fantasy and affect in the formation of fan preferences and identities.

  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

    Adopts a fan-centric approach for understanding the increasingly complex relations between producers and consumers at the intersection between old and new media.

  • Sandvoss, Cornel. Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005.

    Attempts to recenter fan studies by moving away from the study of fan communities and focusing instead on the emotional investments of individual fans, which Sandvoss understands through the lens of narcissism.

  • Staiger, Janet. “Fans and Fan Behaviors.” In Media Reception Studies. By Janet Staiger, 95–114. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

    Traces the move from pathological to celebratory accounts of fan engagement and participation.

  • Tulloch, John, and Henry Jenkins. Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek. London: Routledge, 1995.

    Illustrates a range of different models and methods for analyzing fan responses to science fiction through case studies of audiences for the British Doctor Who and the American Star Trek. Discusses fans as a “powerless elite” that seeks to shape how popular texts are consumed and evaluated. Looks at fan culture in relation to debates about class, gender, sexuality, and technology. Also see Overviews of Specific Fandoms.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.