"Diverse but not too Diverse": Social Identity, Oppression and Resistance in Fan Culture

Julia Stern


Through bringing together literature on social identity, community, and oppression, the current study examines the formation of social identity within fan culture through member’s struggles with the tension between resisting the oppression they face and the desire to belong. Fan culture communities, once associated with eccentric outcasts, have transitioned into mainstream popular culture. This transition is accompanied by a demographic shift within the community with increased participation of members of subordinate social groups (e.g., women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA community). The current research project draws on Social Identity Theory as well as Chavis and McMillan’s four elements of Community Theory to understand the experiences of a diverse sample of participants within fan culture communities, with a specific focus on the perpetuation of (and resistance to) structural forms of oppression (e.g., sexism, racism) within these communities. Data included semi-structured participant interviews (N=20: 15 Female, 5 Male, 15 White, 3 Latina/o, two other), observational ethnographic field notes, and archival material. Utilizing inductive and deductive thematic analysis, three major themes were constructed from the data: resistance, oppression, and sense of community. Results examine a complex community environment in which social identity is shaped by experiences of privilege or oppression and members’ connection to the community through the power of resistance.