Balkanization

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See also: Fandom Migration, Fannish Diaspora
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Balkanization is used in fandom to describe the de-centralization of fandom and fannish communities, in various different contexts.

In the history of online fandom, many fans consider it something that mainly happened in between 1998 and 2005,[1] but the term was used as early as 1997. During this period, the creation of mailing lists became accessible to everyone with the advent of Onelist and eGroups (later Yahoo! Groups), resulting in what had previously been a very centralized fannish experience increasingly splintering off into more specialized discussion groups and topics.

The term was applied again to the fandom migration to LiveJournal, on which fans were even more able to curate their own "bubble" of fandom by creating and joining communities, or by fine-tuning who could and couldn't access their journal. However, it largely fell out of usage as this way of doing fandom became the new norm, and the number of online platforms available to fans only increased.

The term was also used in convention culture to refer to the increasing separation of con-going fans along interest/fanac lines, dividing comics fans from sci-fi fans and cosplayers from filkers.

Balkanization was perceived by some at the time to be an elitist or pejorative term, and many used it with negative connotations, despairing of the increasing siloing of fandom into corners where everyone agreed with each other, instead of being exposed to a variety of opinions and takes on fandom. However, others regarded it as a positive, finding it to create a more positive atmosphere in which fans could find and inhabit the niche they enjoyed.

Examples of Use

Online Fandom

A 1997 use of "balkanization":
Many of the writers have complained that posting to Gossamer is difficult, time consuming and annoying. Why should reading be the same? With the increasing balkanization of the fanfic community things will become increasingly hard for the -reader-. I for one, do not miss the old hunt and poke days of fanfic before Vincent's Gossamer.[2]
Another 1997 use:

I don't think alot of folks come to this venue [Usenet newsgroup] for fanfic discussion. I think alot of them don't realize this is a good venue for discussion, most folk who want to talk fanfic go to the mailing lists now or just do private e-mail to the author.

In the 4, almost 5 years I've been reading X-Files fic (cripes has it been that long?, I feel so frickn' old now) the community has balkanized. Used to be the NG was it (that and FTP). Now there are so many specialized groups and clicks (this isn't bad, it's just the best word I can think of at the moment) and sub-groups ATXC tends to be the home of the most general stuff. The more specialized stuff is usually found on the lists on on private web pages.[3]

Another early use of term is from a 2001 Escapade panel discussion was "I'm Taking My Ball and Starting a New List: or, The Balkanization of Fandom by Kat Allison, Carol, Merry Lynne ("Why the proliferation of ever more numerous, smaller, more specialized, often private mailing lists in slash fandom? What effect does it have on the fannish community and on the quality of on-line discussion?")

LiveJournal is often cited as a source of balkanization in fandom, but the drift of fandom was already happening; LJ only increased it.

Today, the practice of balkanization is expected as the multitude of fannish platforms and spaces has exploded, and when the term is used, it is usually with a specific historical meaning. Fandom migration has effectively succeeded it as the preferred term (without any potential negative connotations) to describe the mass movement of fans between platforms, although with less of a "decentralization" connotation because it is already accepted that fans are dispersed across a number of platforms.

Convention Culture

Within Science Fiction Fandom and sci-fi & fantasy conventions, balkanization has its own meaning that is used to refer to the splitting of different fannish groups along interest lines - dividing comics fans from literary SF fans from movie fans - and also along fan activity lines, with cosplayers, filkers and fanziners all becoming more dispersed and less intertwined.

Unlike the online fandom balkanization that began in the late 90s, accounts indicate this may have begun as early as the 1970s. In a 2007 account of the origins of BayCon, a San Francisco Bay Area regional sci-fi & fantasy convention, Randall Cooper and John McLaughlin wrote,

Multicon-70 was a small convention. There were only a few hundred attendees, and live programming didn't even fill a single track. Yet, to John, it was everything a convention should be. There was no appreciable difference between comics fans, literary SF fans, movie fans, classic radio fans...no snobbery at all. The so-called "Balkanization of Fandom" was still years away.[4]

In A History of Canadian SF Fandom, Garth Spencer recalled,

Apparently the vast growth of Star Trek fandom did not really engulf a more fanzine-oriented fandom until the early 1970s; and in Canada, apparently, the Balkanization of fan activities into separate interest groups, and the shift in emphasis onto conventions, did not quite hit home until the 1980s. You may correct me if I am wrong.[5]
The term was used in 1998 in a panel discussion at Worldcon:
How much longer can we keep it up? Are Worldcons becoming a thing of the past with the median age of fandom rising, hotels becoming more problematic, balkanization of the 'SF Community,' and decreasing numbers of young fans?[6]

It also appeared on a programme for Loscon 29, which took place in 2002, with the panel description:

BALKANIZATION OF FANDOM
Some see costumers, fanziners, filkers, con-runners, wincing apart, Is there room for a generalist? Can we get along?[7]

Furry Fandom

The term has also made an appearance in furry fandom, primarily in a 2008 essay by Harry Underwood, Furry balkanization. In this essay, Underwood uses the term "balkanization" to describe the creation of furry fandom-specific social networks as alternatives to "mainstream" social networks. In a sense, it refers to both the splitting of furry sub-communities away from mainstream fandom, and also the decentralization of furry fandom across numerous different social networks, forums and websites.

Of course, it started with the conventions, the text-based TELNET roleplaying kingdoms, and the IRC networks. Then you’ve had a myriad of furry specific art and story galleries (dating from the 90s), some of which have been created in the 2000s as reactions to what is often known as “fursecution” on more mainstream multimedia galleries, such as DeviantART, SheezyArt and y!Gallery. But it hasn’t stopped here.

Now, instead of just LiveJournal and MySpace, you have furry social networking sites. Instead of just Second Life and IMVU, you have furry graphical chat systems and virtual worlds. Also, furry news websites, furry image boards (in the style of 4chan and 2ch), furry auction sites, furry blog hosts, and other furry-specific manifestations of mainstream website types.

Probably the purpose of this balkanization of the furry fandom is to provide a “furry mirror” to the world, all that may dwell in it, and all the interests that they may possess and exhibit.

But is there more beyond the “furry Looking Glass”? Is there anything within the furry subculture that is only available within it and it alone?

Maybe we won’t find that out until the next decade comes.[8]

In a comment on the post, one fan provided a counter-narrative to Underwood's speculated reasons for furry fandom balkanization, insisting that it had merely happened because of an increasing ease of creating individual groups - similar to the causes that gave rise to general online fandom balkanization - and also drawing a link to convention fandom balkanization.

The balkanization of furry fandom has little to do with so-called “fursecution” (which doesn’t exist and doesn’t really factor into any serious discussion of the fandom) or alleged conversion into fetish territory (an accusation which is so seven years ago) but more to do with the trend of increasing simplicity for people to set up their own forums/websites/what-have-you. Back in the day alt.fan.furry was the only game in town. As things like Yahoo Groups and LiveJournal became popular, folks left AFF (which was a flamepit anyway) and started their own groups.

Another likely factor is the increased number of fans, and the new conventions which have started to accommodate them. More than half the fans at conventions today joined furry fandom after 2001.[9]

Online Fandom Balkanization: Some History

In her Dreamwidth essay Fandom 1994-2000-ish, Arduinna recalls the situation in online fandom before balkanization took place, the advent of mailing lists that anyone could create, and how that changed the fandom experience.

On the upside, it meant that everyone was playing in the same sandbox. It resulted in a fair amount of friction in a lot of cases, but it also meant that the entire fandom hung out together, and everyone got exposed to all sorts of opinions and takes on canon. It made things feel a lot more cohesive, even if it was driving you out of your mind and making you stay up too late typing up responses to people who were SO WRONG omg.

Ahem.

It really did make for a sense of community, though. People expected to hear different opinions; people were expected to behave civilly. There was no "take your toys and leave" -- there was nowhere else to go (other than the newsgroups, of course). The main list in most fandoms was a place where everyone had a voice, equal to everyone else's voice.

[...]

Even if you didn't like a list's particular culture, you stuck it out, or just left. The idea of making a second general/main list for a fandom was unsettling, and really implied the breaking of the fandom.
In summer 1998, eGroups started gaining users, although most fans stayed on Onelist. The two merged in 1999 (to a fair amount of crankiness from a lot of fans, who preferred Onelist); by that time, people were using these "public" web-based lists to create main-list lists for their fandoms, and starting lists for any show (or whaever) that caught their fancy, without necessarily waiting for a critical mass of interested people. Then in 2000, pretty much just as fans had finished adapting to eGroups and started to get fond of it, Yahoo bought eGroups and turned them into Yahoo Groups (to even more crankiness).

This was a lot of shakeup in a short period, but fandom had been doing even more internal shaking up. The advent of simple, web-based mailing lists that absolutely anyone could start/own/run changed the face of mailing-list-based fandom.

Lists exploded, basically, and by 2000 or so you could find one for anything you wanted, down to particular tropes for particular characters or pairings.

Which was great for being able to tailor discussions! But it meant that newer fandoms were starting out more splintered from the get-go, and it was harder and harder to get a full-fandom experience. We called it the balkanization of fandom, and while it was a natural result of fandom's steady growth, it was also sort of sad; no one's ever going to have that full-fandom experience again.[10]

Some Comments

A 1997 comment on the alt.fan.furry Usenet group, framing balkanization as a positive:

In the interest of the equal time clause, here are my Top Ten Reasons to Go to Albany Anthrocon:

[snipped]

6. It's going to result in a regionalization of the fandom, or at least a balkanization, where each fan goes only to the cons whose personality suits hir. Judging from the tenor of this group for the last couple of years, might that not be a good thing? That way you could just attend the con that represents your own tiny microscopic little splinter faction of furry and never worry about all those other big scary nasty perverts/ moralists/Christians/pagans/fans/artists/liberals/conservatives/walruses who

aren't like you...[11]

Is "balkanization" an elitist term? A 1998 comment:

...the term itself still strikes me somehow as a tad elitist - and I don't think fanzine fandom does that, inaccurate as it may well be. The mistake, I think, is to look for a term which claims any kind of historical or traditional affiliation that implies "we were here before you." It doesn't matter whether it’s true or not.[12]

Another fan commenting on how this dispersion of fans could improve the fandom experience, from a 2003 Media*West con report:

A friend went to a LOTR panel and had to leave early, too. She said there was a big, nasty conflict between the moderators and a group in the audience. They were supposed to discuss each of the characters and the group in the audience thought they'd spent long enough on Aragon. And people fret about the demise of panels at cons! I wonder why? I think I'm becoming a fan of the Balkanization of Fandom as a way to enjoy fandom -- save for a few DMZs that are inhabited by folks who are not proponents of My Way Or The HighWay ideology.[13]

A fan comment from 2005 on the impact on fanfiction:

I also wonder if this compartmentalizing affects peoples writing in that they write for a more limited audience.... In fact for awhile I and some others figured there'd be a mix of decentralization and exchange of data but central sites would play a central role. Didn't work out like we expected. People want what they want.[14]

Another comment from 2005 about LJ and balkanization:

I'm totally on the LJ train. Really, I am. There are things I miss about mailing lists, and if you asked me to choose between fandom primarily going back to lists and fandom staying on LJ, I'd...well, I'd pull a John Sheppard and flip a coin, but pragmatist that I am, I'm all with the "LJ is where fandom is at so that's where I'll be." But like every other medium ever, LJ has its benefits and drawbacks. Every time the "is LJ good or bad" discussion comes up, people say that LJ lets you customize your fannish experience, and posit this as a beneift. This always gives me pause, because the truth is, what LJ lets you customize is the people you come into contact with, which is absolutely a benefit. But again, like every benefit ever, it comes with a cost.[15]

From a fan in 2005 who was very thankful for the trend towards balkanization:

As to the isolation factor -- I agree wholeheartedly and I thank God for it. [snipped] In my experience, the best way to make fandom into a positive space for oneself is to find your niche and stay there. The Balkanization of fandom started some years ago, and has continued apace. I think that's been, by and large, a *good* thing. We have metafandom when we want to branch out, and I think people use it fairly often. I get all the engaging discussion and cheerful disagreement I need from my f-list, and while I had to put some effort into doing that -- *having* that -- it wasn't, in the end, all that much. [16]

From a fan in 2013, bemoaning the impact of convention culture balkanization on fannish values:

...the “traditional” fannish values of yore seem to matter little to the generation currently running things… General cons, where everything is on the agenda, is falling victim to specialized cons, such as “steampunk”, costuming, gaming, media, and even a couple of cons honoring the “old school” fanzines of yore. This Balkanization of fandom may just lead to its eventual demise, but I hope not.[17]

A 2014 comment regarding fandom cohesion and cons:

Now, the one thing pushing back on the “balkanization” of fandom, is the rise of the super-con: DragonCon in Atlanta, and the many Comic Cons, such as Salt Lake City Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con. Events that will literally draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. And not just the hard-core fans, either. The super-cons bring “mundanes” from beyond fandom who are still fans, they just do not identify with fannish culture or history, nor do they even necessarily recognize what it is they enjoy; as Science Fiction or Fantasy. For these “fans outside fandom” they are purely attracted to a popular mass-appeal product, such as a comic book line or comic book movie, a popular television show, and so forth.[18]

A 2017 fan comment on how the rise of anthropomorphic fandoms who distanced themself from furry fandom was balkanizing the furry community:

>>50848

>The fandom is at a real chance of completely dying off in a decade due to low interest/splitting from other similar fandoms like MLP.

To add onto this Furry is at a real risk of being balkanized into smaller communities

I'll use an example. MLP is massive right now. And a lot of people there will deny it being associated with furries. There's also a huge amount who belong to both communities. /monster/ is another. Most of the people there hate furries with a passion despite there being a large cross section that belong to both.

Imagine in 10 years that this continues to happen with people belonging to just one community rather than furries and there being like 10 different communities that feature anthro characters. Like some bird cartoon comes out and swells in size to MLP numbers and they deny being "furries" because "birds aren't furries". That sort of thing.[19]

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. ^ From Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Jan Levine (2013)
  2. ^ comment by p.juel at alt.tv.x-files.creative: Archive Discussion (was An open letter to A, July 13, 1997
  3. ^ alt.tv.x-files.creative › REC: "Vestigy" by Lisby by Hawkeye (May 12, 1999)
  4. ^ The Origin of BayCon: The San Francisco Bay Area Regional Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention, Randall Cooper & John McLaughlin, DiaryLand. July 22, 2007 (Accessed October 9, 2020). Archived version.
  5. ^ I Guess You Had to Be There; "Les Années 70", Garth Spencer. Published January 9, 2003 (Accessed October 9, 2020).
  6. ^ Fanac, 1998
  7. ^ Loscon 29 Programming, published November 27, 2002. Accessed October 9, 2020. Archived version.
  8. ^ Furry balkanization, Harry Underwood, World of Values. Published July 8, 2008 (Accessed October 9, 2020).
  9. ^ Comment by xxydexx, published July 10, 2008 (Accessed October 9, 2020).
  10. ^ from Fandom 1994-2000-ish/Part Three
  11. ^ Post by Nick F Brienza to the discussion 'Fur Yr Info: Top Ten Reasons NOT to attend Albany Anthrocon', alt.fan.furry. Posted February 17, 1997 (Accessed October 9, 2020).
  12. ^ In a Prior Lifetime, pdf, 2006
  13. ^ tenaya, Archived version
  14. ^ comment by dragonscholar at Fanthropology: Fandom: Evolution; archive link, February 1, 2005
  15. ^ The Price of LiveJournal; archive link by cereta (2005)
  16. ^ from a comment by thete1 at Some thoughts on LiveJournal, not all entirely related.
  17. ^ Conventions, Science Fiction, and Me…, Archived version
  18. ^ Whence fandom?, Archived version
  19. ^ Comment by Anonymous, /fur/, 8kun. Posted 19 October, 2017 (Accessed 9 October, 2020).
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