Context Collapse

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Context collapse is a concept used by academics writing about the effects of social media. It refers to the infinite audience possible online as opposed to the limited groups a person normally interacts with face to face. In a limited group, a person is constantly adjusting their tone and presentation of self to fit into the social context. In a situation of context collapse, this becomes impossible. In addition, behaviors and materials intended for a limited audience can suddenly clash with parts of the wider audience they actually receive.

Origin of the term

The term was coined by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch[1]. He first used it in his talk An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube.[2][3][4]

Context collapse in fandom

Within fandom, this type of situation can arise when a fanwork becomes so popular that people outside of the original fandom are made aware of it. For example, a vid like Closer goes viral on youtube or a parody fic like The Very Secret Diaries or Wait Wait Don't Eat Me attracts attention from outside of fandom. Context collapse is also the result when a LiveJournal post that was aimed at the author's flist gets metafandomed and is read by lots of strangers who, though also in fandom, weren't the intended audience.


  1. ^ Wesch's page at Kansas State University. (Accessed December 22, 2011.)
  2. ^ E-mail in response to Franzeska indicates that this was the first use. (December 22, 2011.)
  3. ^ Wesch defined the term in more detail in a "Context Collapse" at Originally posted July 31, 2008. (Accessed December 22, 2011.)
  4. ^ See also: YouTube and You: Experiences of Self-awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam. Explorations in Media Ecology 8(2):19-34. (Link accessed December 22, 2011.)