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Social identity, class and empowerment: Television fandom and advocacy

Cheryl D Harris, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Television is our most pervasive representation of a shared "cultural space" within which the allocation of social value is negotiated. This study traces the efforts of one social group, Viewers for Quality Television, in their attempts to contest the distribution of cultural space on television. Data collection included a survey of 1107 members, a series of focus groups, participant observation, and textual analysis. Since the group is composed of television fans, the project also develops a theoretical framework within which to view fandom: what produces fandom, what its role in popular culture is, what practices distinguish fans from each other, and who is likely to be a fan. Using a sociology of culture perspective, fandom is reconceptualized as a spectrum of practices engaged in to develop a sense of personal control or influence over the object of fandom (such as a star or text). Fans may be seen as members of subordinated social groups who try to align themselves with meanings embodied in stars or other texts that best express their own sense of social identity. However, there are widely varying degrees of involvement in fan practices oriented toward this alignment, and this variance is associated with different outcomes. The most important finding is that for these fans, the more involved one is in fan practices, the more one comes to feel one is empowered with a sense of control over the television industry, regardless of whether or not one's efforts to influence the object of fandom have been successful. In addition, how much one enjoys television is positively and significantly associated with degree of involvement in fan practices as well as one's perception of influence. The process of asserting one's social values and "tastes" within the television programming structure is politicized and class-driven. If social values (therefore, tastes) are expressed via social identity, one would expect to see this demonstrated in cultural preferences. The membership of VQT (and of most fan groups) is overwhelmingly female, and inasmuch as this comprises a specific form of social identity for members, not surprisingly the group has a strong implicit taste agenda oriented toward protecting and enlarging representations of women on television.

Subject Area

Mass media|Sociology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Harris, Cheryl D, "Social identity, class and empowerment: Television fandom and advocacy" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9305837.