Documenting fandom history: Getting the bias out

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Title: Documenting fandom history: Getting the bias out
Creator: Laura Hale
Date(s): Apr. 12th, 2008
Medium: online
External Links: Fanthropology - The Study of Fandom - Documenting fandom history: Getting the bias out, Archived version
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Documenting fandom history: Getting the bias out is a 2008 essay by Laura Hale at Fanthropology.

It alludes to the conflicts Hale was having in fandom due to her Fan History Wiki.

Excerpt from the Post

One of the most frustrating parts of writing fandom history is the accusation of bias. "This is bias towards that group!" people will say. "This is biased against that group!" another will argue. "The bias of this piece makes it totally unreliable," others will say. Once that accusation comes out, people may summarily dismiss the whole work as unreliable and untrustworthy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent five years writing it or that you worked really hard to try to make it as unbiased as possible. The perception of bias will kill the reception of your history for some people. So how do you avoid bias to prevent that accusation? You can’t. Fandom is made up of different groups with different people. These groups have varying agendas in fandom, with their own biases. Because you’re writing about these people, because their history, which they have an entrenched interest in, is the topic, you are unlikely to not cross them in writing a history of any group in fandom. Some one is going to eventually make that accusation and there is very little you can do to prevent that. Since you can’t prevent accusations of bias, the key becomes to identify biases you have and to understand how they effect your understanding of fandom history. By understanding your own biases, by becoming aware of them, you can put them into context for the history you are writing. By sharing your biases with the reader, you are being honest with them that while you tried to be honest with them, your reality may be shaped by your biases. You provide the reader with critical information for how to evaluate your work. Identifying your personal bias can be difficult in fandom. How you interact in fandom, what you ship, who your friends are, where you read fan fiction, post fan art and upload fanvids, what conventions you attend or do not attend can all be sources of bias. Every activity, every relationship, every preference you have can be seen as bias.
[addressing some hypothetical fans bios]: In terms of fan fiction history, the Harry Potter fan appears to be biased against fan fiction. The other two appear biased in favor of certain aspects of the fan fiction community. The assumption would be that the CSI fan would be biased in favor of het fic and the Grissom/Sara ship, and that the Stargate fandom person would be biased in favor of slash, and biased against femslash and het. The CSI fan might appear to be biased towards FanFiction.Net as the center of the CSI fan fiction community. The Stargate fan might appear to be biased against FanFiction.Net and any fan fiction community not located on LiveJournal. Other biases can be more personal. If the CSI fan is writing a history, that fight she had with another CSI fan might call into question what she’s writing because it could be seen as an attack or intentional slight on whoever she fought with. If the CSI fandom history is overly nice towards that person, the history might be perceived as an attempt to get back in to that fan and her friends’ good graces. The Harry Potter fan, if he is writing about Harry Potter fansites, might be perceived as biased because of his contributions to the Lexicon. Any positive mention of the Lexicon and negative mention of the Leaky Cauldron might be seen as attempts to support something, which a lot of Harry Potter fans find disgusting. If there are negative mentions of the Leaky Cauldron, it might be seen as holding a grudge against Steve and RDR. The Stargate fan, because of her academic credentials, might be seen as trying to make fans look overly positive in order to reflect positively on her own activities. She might also be accused of being out of touch with the average fan because of her academic credentials, the language she uses and where she hangs out in fandom.

Comments to the Post

  • [gournay]: "That list is a sum of the common sense behind writing essays or anything non fictional. Always ALWAYS make clear where you are standing and where you're getting your facts from, but most important don't forget to make a clear statement about what your personal opinion is. That will help a lot when it comes to answer the “nasty” comments. As in; “I never said this was the only side of the coin. But it is mine! Now let me see yours.” This is the internet, not every one cares as much as you do about commenting. Also getting down what you really want to say is hard when the fine nuances in the language are crushed by fast typing and short temper, misunderstandings happens all the time. I would say that what are driving the discussion forward are those that don’t agree with the original statement. Then it is up to you as the writer, and sort of moderator, to respond in a “responsible” way to lift the discussion from “u zooo bad” to “I hate your text because…”. Also those well researched rebuttal are rare for a reason. It takes great courage to post one. I would guess that many out there got a really good reply just waiting to get typed down. Alas, those words won’t survive long or maybe worst they will be forgotten before they even has been typed."
  • [pandorasblog]: "This is interesting. I've come across the problem in a small way recently: the fact that fandom history is written by self-selected people, and self-selected people may avoid writing about fandom history. I'd tried to get people to collaborate in updating the FH wiki entry for a particular fandom, but found that (given the fandom's precarious legal/copyright history) people were highly reluctant to do so, since being thorough would involve mentioning website names, including the name of the site where the discussion was taking place. Others felt that the discussion site (seen by participants as a literate haven compared to perceived triviality elsewhere in fandom) being mentioned/linked in a history would bring in new members of the sort they didn't want to converse with. Both are understandable points of view within the context of the fandom, but it did make me think that fandom history changes as much because of those who don't write it as because of those who do..."
  • partly bouncy: "self-selected people may avoid writing about fandom history. That's true. There are things in my own personal fannish history I don't talk about for a variety of reasons. (And there are things which I over talk about because of my own interest.) That's one of the reasons why, in regards to Fan History, I keep trying to get more people involved because the more people involved, the less that should be a problem. ... Theoretically. (The truth to that is actually up for debate and could go back to the whole concept of the effectiveness of wikis in general as a source of shared knowledge.) since being thorough would involve mentioning website names, including the name of the site where the discussion was taking place. Yeah. That can often challenge or threaten the status quo. It can also challenge vested interests or rehash things that people want to go away. Lots of reasons not to want the history out there. being mentioned/linked in a history would bring in new members of the sort they didn't want to converse with. I haven't really heard that one much. (But that might be because I don't see Fan History as a traffic driver for particular fandoms.) So interesting... but it did make me think that fandom history changes as much because of those who don't write it as because of those who do... True. Yeah. Bias can be in histories because of those who don't participate. I have similar issues with some of the survey research done in fandom: It represents a select group who give voice to their particular opinions. Those who don't speak may come at things from a totally different perspective. I don't know that you can honestly get a complete history that gives a totally accurate reflection of the history of fandom or a particular subset of fandom. Efforts can be made... but it generally requires a LOT of work and crossing people who might not want to be crossed in order to do a good job. For many people who might be interested in the topic, I don't know if it is worth the risk. :/"