Ruijie Xie

Thesis: Chinese Fandom Communities of Japanese Pop Artists: The Role of Translation in the Fan Communities within the Chinese Fandom of AKB48

The past twenty years have seen the rise and rapid evolution of Internet technologies. When combined with cultural consumerism, these technological developments have resulted in the emergence of a particular type of virtual community - online fandom. In such communities, fans, driven by their shared effect for particular pop culture products and artists, are able to co-habit shared cyberspace and explore their fandom through a range of practices. Moreover, the growing ubiquity of digital technologies has significantly blurred the old boundaries between producers and consumers of popular culture; in particular, fans are now participating ever more actively in the production and circulation of media content through a process called ‘cocreation’. This new participatory phenomenon has blurred the traditional boundaries between production and consumption and accounts for the proliferation of consumers-turned-producers, or ‘prosumers’. As part of the wider phenomenon of ‘immaterial labour’, i.e. the labour that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity, prosumption is posing important challenges to existing social and cultural structures.

Based on this context, the subject of this research is the Chinese online fandom of Japanese pop music idol group AKB48. Through the transnational flow of the group’s media content via the Internet, this fandom has grown to be a complex network made up of hundreds of thousands of fans and a large number of fan communities. From them, two particular communities are selected as the focal points of this study – one is a translation-oriented fansubbing group, the other is a community for general fans. They are theorised through the theoretical framework of Communities of Practice (CoP) as driven by specific organisational dimensions, and as being able to convert these dimensions into particular ‘competences’ of individual fans through fans’ participatory practices. Furthermore, the experience of such competencies can contribute to processes that form fan identity.

In order to investigate the issues of the organisation of the fan communities and the formation of fan identity in this fandom, this study employs netnography as the overarching methodology. According to netnography, there are three types of data that I can collect: archival data (e.g. fansubbed videos, historic communications, and bio information of communities), elicited data (e.g. survey data and interview data), and ‘produced data’ (e.g. reflective journals and field notes). In order to collect them, I will enter the fan communities and participate in fan practices in an immersive way. Through my observation of community members’ activities and investigation of the community archives, I will be able to gather archival data; based on my own experience of this fandom, I can create fieldnotes; and in order to collect elicited data, I will recruit a number of fans to participate in semi-structured interviews. The collected data will be analysed mainly by employing qualitative content analysis method. It is expected that this research will shed light on the understanding of the role that translation plays in online transnational fandom culture.