Tag: performance

Narrative Identity and Anime: Fan Studies

This is part of a series that draws on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fans. The series creates a framework for exploring the relationship between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from stories into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.


Why Study Fans?

“Most people are fans of something,” says Jonathan Gray in the introduction to Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World; from Potterheads, to Trekkies to Country Music Fans and Football Fanatics. “Fandom is beautiful, and [has become] an ever more common mode of cultural consumption.” (2007:1,7) Where fans were once seen as “odd”  or “absurd” in their dedication to a single show or pastime, this fervor has become increasingly accepted and even promoted by enterprise. No longer is a fan someone who has “lost touch with reality,” but simply someone who “really loves that show” in the words of David, an anime fan in his mid-fifties.

Moreover, fandom has become a means of identification, especially for those who may feel marginalized by mainstream society. As the world shrinks through globalization, individuals find themselves with a growing array of identities to choose from. No longer are we simply defined by kinship group, religion, or occupation. We can now identify with social movements (women, gay men, lesbians, ethnic groups, disabled persons, etc.), social circles (networks through online socialization like Facebook), or common interest groups such as motorcyclists, extreme sports, scrap bookers or anime fans (Linger 2005:23).

So, again, why study fans? Why specifically study anime fans?

One answer is simple from an anthropological perspective: anime fandom exists and is important to people. These fans create a culture around anime; a culture with its own rules, taboos, taxonomies, initiations, and language. A second answer is that anime is a fascinating media exchange. The very word anime has crossed from Latin to Anglo-Saxon to Modern English to Japanese and then back to Standard American English (Drout 2010). Anime as an art form is a Japanese interpretation of an originally Western art form: animation. Anime is imported to the States, where it is picked up by individuals, for the most part, with no Asian identity. Few better examples of globalization and transcultural media exchange exist.

Building on the assertions from Linde, Wertsch, and Hyden and leaning on Irving Goffman’s theories of symbolic interactionism (Goffman 2002), we can craft a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives (fictionalized, social, and others) into their personal identity narrative. The individuals then project this identity narrative by way of a performative identity. By using anime fans as an illustration, we can investigate this phenomenon in a specific, real-world context.

All these definitions will be detailed in Chapter Two, but they suffice now to form a central question: How do anime fans use anime to perform their personal identity narratives? Even anthropologists and scholars not interested in anime could find the finding here applicable to other settings. Researchers of narrative studies, media studies, fan studies, identity studies, and cultural exchange may be interested in various elements of the ethnographic findings.

Fan Studies

Francis Hsu (1963) posited that, in societies where clans and castes have become de-emphasized, people seek social identification through a system of clubs. The clubs are groups that become”imagined communities with false borders”(Anderson 2006), and play an integral role in constructing and disseminating cultural norms. Clubs do this chiefly by offering social resources that create “communities of practice” in which individuals use common social-symbolic tools to construct and perform their identities.

So, in our case, anime fandom is a community of practice that provides narrative resources, allows fans a place to test-drive these identities, and provides contexts into the redefinition and projection of personal identity narratives

As we are using anime fans as our example, it is important to discuss the history and important literature of both fan studies and anime studies. Fan studies is not a new field, as fans have always existed. In the early 1980s, scholars became interested in fandom through Michel de Certeau’s discussion of the powerful, the powerless, and media consumption (1988).

Fandom is a common feature of popular culture in industrial societies. It selects from the repertoire of mass-produced and mass-distributed entertainment certain performers, narratives or genres and then takes them into the culture of a self-selected fraction of the people. They are then reworked into an intensely pleasurable, intensely signifying popular culture that is both similar to, yet significantly different from, the culture of more “normal” popular audiences. (Fiske 1992:36)

This first wave of scholarship saw fans as cast aside from the mainstream and looked down upon because of their devotion. It focused on the artifacts of extreme fandom such as conventions and gaming circles. Fandom was to be seen as a beautiful form of otherness and the study fans was dedicated to championing those disadvantaged within society. (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007; Tulloch and Jenkins 1995).

This sort of binary did not do justice to those who loved a show and watched it religiously, but did not engage in any other forms of fan expression like fanfiction (fan-created texts based on more popular texts) and cosplay (costume-play). Meanwhile, the cultural status of fan changed, becoming more accepted and even promoted by corporate America, which wanted a dedicated consumer. This led to a focus on fan texts and a more literary investigation of fandom. The third wave of fandom strives to look at fandom as a more holistic and integrated aspect of life:

Here fandom is no longer only an object of study in and for itself. Instead, through the investigation of fandom as part of the fabric of our everyday lives, [this wave] aims to capture fundamental insights into modern life (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007).

Contemporary fan studies has moved in many directions, mostly following fandom as it expanded to computer mediated, virtual spaces. As the field of interest matured, it became intertwined with a number of disciplines. Literary scholars still study fan produced texts, questions of canon, and textual evolution (Black 2006; Bronwen 2011; Kap 2006; Black 2007; Oviedo 2007). Many sociologists and psychologists investigate fandom in terms of intertextual conglomerations from multiple sources (Henry Jenkins 2007; Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007; Alters 2007). Fandom has even been looked at as therapeutic (Ashby 2010; Harris and Alexander 1998). Of course, business and marketing has a keen interest in fandom as consumption (Fiske 1992; Elliott and Wattanasuwan 1998).

While anthropologists have been slow to do ethnographic fieldwork in fandom, a number of researchers are looking at fandom on anthropological ways, specifically in fan interaction. Longhurst (2007:137) “seek[s] to connect contemporary cultural theory to the mundane practices of everyday life, and concludes that there is evidence for the analytic power of the simple, mass, diffused characterizations, among the audience continuum.” Roberta Pearson looks at self-identification in fandom, classifications, taxonomies, and stigma attached to certain types of fans (2007)

Studies in anime texts are proliferous. Not only are there textual studies on the anime itself (Newitz 1995; Drazen 2003) and media studies on theme and craft (Kono 2011; Gustines 2007), but many scholars have looked at anime fandom in particular. Madeline Ashby’s (2010) cyborg theory to explore a fan’s online identity in contrast to the fan’s offline identity. Others look at how different regions produce different fandom experiences and attitudes about fans (Frasier 2007; Manion 2005).

It is also important at this point to clarify the notion of subculture versus popular culture versus counterculture and so on. These terms have been traditionally fuzzy. Many anthropologists prefer the term “popular culture” when describing groups such as the anime fans I interacted with because that does not draw the same sort of “hard line” around a group. This is important to recognize: anime fandom is not isolated or separated from other social circles. One is not a fan here, but not a fan there. In this way, popular culture may be more appropriate. However, since the prevailing term in fan studies as well as among anime fans is “subculture,” subculture will be used here. In any sense, the discussion on “communities of practice” is most helpful when speaking of a social context for the analysis of narrative identity.

Now that we have grounding in our subject group, let’s turn to the analytical tools we will use to explore how fans construct and perform personal identity narratives.

Narrative Identity and Anime: Questions, Definitions, and Directions

This is part of a series that draws on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fans. The series creates a framework for exploring the relationship between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from stories into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.


Stories are part of humanity, and have been ever since, and probably before, humankind took to speech. John Niles (Niles 2010) even went as far as to call humankind Homo Narrans, “storytelling man.” But let’s take that though a little further. To what extend do people use narrative to build their personal identities?

I first posit that the “narrative” as a “sense-making” structure that gives the “bones” allowed for people to “create and give meaning to our social reality (Hydén 1997:50).” Further, I suggest that narratives can be effectively and intentionally used to teach, to shape, and to guide behavior.

In a general sense, this is building off of work by Joseph Campbell (2008) and Carl Jung (1981), who had complimentary notions of archetypes as described in Christopher Vogler”™s book The Writer”™s Journey (2007) where mythic narrative elements (archetypes and journeys) act as guides for personal and social behavior. BronisÅ‚aw Malinowski also discussed the idea of a social charter (1971) where myths act as guides or a sort of playbook for behavior.

In more recent years, Charlotte Linde, an anthropologist, theorizes about the use of narrative as a sense making structure and story as a resource for identity management during her ethnography of an American Insurance Company (2003; 2000). The definition of “narrative” will be discussed in detail later, but for now we will define story as a presentation of events, whether real or fictitious, involving three primary elements: plotting, character, and setting (Morrell 2006:51). Linde details how incoming employees use stories from training materials and social settings to mold their own identity and guide their behavior in the workplace.

James Wertsch, an anthropologist from Washington University in St. Louis, carries this further by postulating that narratives are the primary sense-making structure, and are carried collectively by groups as part of a narrative schema inside a social circle”™s collective memory (2008; 2000). Indeed, the study of illness narrative inside medical anthropology suggests that narratives can be used to, among other things: 1) to reconstruct one”™s life in line with a greater narrative, 2) as a form of strategic interaction in order to assert or project one’s identity, and 3) to transform illness from an individual into a collective phenomenon.

So, it can be asserted that narratives are instrumental in creating, shaping, and projecting (or performing) identity.

Narrative is the central sense-making structure that allows human beings to arrange, categorize and present symbolic ideas. Hydén (1997:50) said, it has only been recently that “social scientists began to consider narratives as one of the ways in which we create and give meaning to our social reality. To earlier generations of social scientists, the narrative was merely one of many forms of representation.” Therefore, narrative provides the schema or roadmap for symbolic ideas to be connected and interpreted. Narrative is built in the same way story is: with character, plot and setting.

Identity, according to Joel Charon is “the name we all call ourselves” and also “the name we announce to others that tells them who we are.” (2009:84) Identities are positional or relational. They are “perceived social locations of the individual where one has situated [themselves] in relation to others,”¦[and] the name one tries to communicate with others” (Stone 2011:93).

So our working definition of identity is the socially constructed, socially maintained, and socially transformed meanings a person attributes to himself or herself (Berger 2011; Burke 1980).

To further clarify definitions, I will call the internal “identity” the personal identity narrative, here meaning the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves. The external “identity” in the paragraph above, I shall refer to as the performative identity, meaning the “me” we attempt to show others.

These definitions come together in the theory of narrative identity which we described earlier as the interplay between narratives and social identity construction in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives (fictionalized, social, and others) into their personal identity narrative and attempt to project this identity narrative by way of a performative identity.

The triad of narrative identity is an analytical framework that is used to analyze narrative identity by describing the connectedness between the shaping and projecting of narrative identity using narrative resources.

Narrative resources are narrative elements that provide symbolic points of reference, context, and content for fashioning identity and for performing identity.

These three aspects work in concert together: personal identity narratives, performative identities, and narrative resources. This works in a procedural way:

  1. Narrative resources exist “out there” and are shared by both audience and performer. They do not have the exact same set, and both interpret these symbols differently.
  2. The actor uses these shared resources to cobble together a personal identity narrative. That is “Who do I say I am?”
  3. That personal identity feeds into the performative identity: Who do I want others to know I am?
  4. The performance is the observable interaction projected by the actor.
  5. The audience relies on the shared narrative resources for audience interpretation.
  6. This creates the perceived self, or perception of the actor. This is who the audience thinks the actor is.
  7. The audience provides feedback, both intentionally and unintentionally.
  8. That feedback influences the performance, which influences the performative identity, which can ultimately influence the personal identity narrative.

Consider this simple example: Jerry is a football fan. His personal identity narrative is, therefore, informed by narrative resources that may include sports narratives, sports jargon and personal experiences. Jerry also performs this identity in order to situate himself as an athlete among his circle of friends. In order to communicate this, he again draws on narrative resources. In this case, those resources may be a brand of clothing that carries symbolic weight and that the group understands to point towards athletes. He may also adopt (enact) certain gestures and language that have been made popular by celebrity athletes. The audience (individuals in his circle of friends) sees these performance features and associates Jerry with athletics, therefore perceiving him as an athlete.

Going forward, I will attempt to walk a three-sided line. First and foremost, I will strive to enable anime fans to share their own voices through their own interviews, interpretations, and performances.

The second line is an attempt to create an analytical framework for investigating the theory of narrative identity. This framework will help us draw conclusions about the form and substance of narrative identity in social contexts. This is a test, and it may be that the framework is insufficient or plain faulty.

The third line is to fit this work in with the larger question of stories for education, identity management, and transformation. I will discuss some applied approaches and further directions for research of this type.

The next post in this series is a brief introduction to anime.

Stay tuned!

Series: The Triad Narrative Identity and Anime Fandom

This blog and my research, is devoted to transformational storytelling. At the core transformational storytelling research is the simple question, “why people respond so strongly to stories?” If we can find these answers, we can create stories that teach, heal, call to social action, and transform lives.

One great way to explore the connection between humans and stories is to explore groups who have observable, passionate, and strong connections to a specific cannon of stories. Many such groups come to mind: novelists, folklorists, storytellers, and fans. Fans pose an especially interesting case because they so often adopt elements from stories and integrate them into daily life, in effect living out the stories they love. Is that not exactly what we are looking to investigate?

As I have discussed in another mini-series about storyworlds, there are many different ways we integrate elements of story into our personal identity narrative. This series is an in depth exploration of one small group of anime fans and a general look at the larger world of anime fandom.

Read More

Narrative Identity: An Ethnographic Example

This mini-series looks at how we integrate elements of stories into our personal identities, literally letting stories transform who we are. We look at the storyworlds that grow up around stories, narrative identity, and create a basic framework to analyze further.

The research is pulled from my Master’s Thesis in Cultural Anthropology where I did an ethnographic study with a group of anime fans, but don’t get bogged down in the anime of it. A football game is a story. A band has a story. Televisions shows. All these things develop storyworlds through which we shape our personal identities and interact with others.

Check out the Rest of the Series


In the first post of this mini-series, we defined “storytworlds” as the culture that grows up around stories, filled with all the trappings of culture like language, artifacts, and social convention. We talked about how individual identities can be seen as narratives, and hypothesized that storytworlds and stories influence the composition of those personal identity narratives. In the second post, I proposed a framework called the Triad of Narrative Identity that broke this narrative identity process into 3 parts: cultural resources, personal identity narrative, and performative identity.

This is the last post of this mini-series, and the simplest. Let’s see an example from real life ethnography:

Taylor, one of the informants from my ethnographic fieldwork, is a self-identified anime fan. She is in her mid-twenties, a college graduate, and a small business owner who says she watches anime, usually with her husband, at least fifteen hours a week. She frequents conventions, online social networks, and has begun learning Japanese. By way of her personal identity narrative, Taylor identifies with both anime fan culture and certain common character types that are commonplace in anime storylines.

“I always liked the creative, free girls that are in a lot of anime and manga. They always have great ideas and make beautiful things. They are fun to be around, but also can be really deep ““ have great ideas and solve problems and stuff like that. I guess if I was an anime character, I would want to be that one. A creative free spirit kind.”

The character type described by Taylor is typical in anime, an archetype. This archetype is common in anime and Japanese literature; I have dubbed her the “Creative Free Spirit Girl.” In both casual conversation and her non-directed interviews, Taylor talked about herself in these same terms. She expressed herself as creative, fun, free-spirited, but also deep and able to solve problems. When describing her life story, she drew parallels with this archetype and her own identity narrative, using this narrative resource to inform this aspect of her identity.

Read More

Narrative Identity: The Triad

This mini-series looks at how we integrate elements of stories into our personal identities, literally letting stories transform who we are. We look at the storyworlds that grow up around stories, narrative identity, and create a basic framework to analyze further.

The research is pulled from my Master’s Thesis in Cultural Anthropology where I did an ethnographic study with a group of anime fans, but don’t get bogged down in the anime of it. A football game is a story. A band has a story. Televisions shows. All these things develop storyworlds through which we shape our personal identities and interact with others.

Check out the Rest of the Series


Previously, I talked about a storyworld as the social setting through which individuals interact with stories. These can be fan clubs, movie theaters, or anyplace where we talk about stories we love. (Yep, even the sports bar). I also defined narrative as the central sense-making structure that allows human beings to arrange, categorize and present symbolic ideas.

Now, we dive into an analytic framework that lets us look at how people integrate pieces of stories and storyworlds into their personal identities. This is an important step if we want to understand why this works and how we can create transformational stories that do it on purpose. The framework isn’t complicated and its still evolving. Think of it as a set of three connected boxes that allow you to separate certain elements and see how they interact with each other.

In a Nutshell

Let’s move past the scholar-speak and make it really simple for a moment. A person (the actor) loves a story (any story). They take bits of that story (narrative resources) like a character’s trait, a turn of phrase, or a fashion choice and integrates the bits into their own performance (they use the phrase in everyday life). Someone else (the audience) see the actor performing this, connects it to the story and understands what the actor is trying to convey.

Simple.

Read More

Series: Narrative Identity Introduction

This mini-series looks at how we integrate elements of stories into our personal identities, literally letting stories transform who we are. We look at the storyworlds that grow up around stories, narrative identity, and create a basic framework to analyze further.

If the goal of this blog is to explore research into transformational storytelling, then we must look a more than just the stories themselves. Human beings are social, and we interact with stories in social ways. We also incorporate elements of stories into our own identities. This mini-series introduces these ideas and lays out a bare-bones method for analyzing the social context by which we engage with stories and integrate bits of them into our identity.

I propose an analytic framework that lets us look at how people integrate pieces of stories and storyworlds into their personal identities. This is an important step if we want to understand why this works and how we can create transformational stories.

Let’s move past the scholar-speak and make it really simple for a moment.

A person (the actor) loves a story (any story). They take bits of that story (narrative resources) like a character’s trait, a turn of phrase, or a fashion choice and integrates the bits into their own performance (they use the phrase in everyday life). Someone else (the audience) see the actor performing this, connects it to the story and understands what the actor is trying to convey.

The research is pulled from my Master’s Thesis in Cultural Anthropology where I did an ethnographic study with a group of anime fans, but don’t get bogged down in the anime of it. A football game is a story. A band has a story. Televisions shows. All these things develop storyworlds through which we shape our personal identities and interact with others.

Series Contents

  1. Storyworlds
  2. Triad of Narrative Identity
  3. An Ethnographic Example

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