No Money, No Opinion: The Conflict Zones of Power and Capital in Hallyu Fandom Networks

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2021

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In the age of Web 2.0 and particularly since the early 2010s, social media platforms have served as spaces for fans around the world to connect with one another in “imagined communities” to express joint affect for their beloved objects and texts. However, instead of a utopia-like community, online fandom has become a polarized battleground that fragments by the day. This is not a new phenomenon that has arisen because of the internet, but online networks have enabled fans to reach each other with unprecedented ease and speed, allowing for more opportunities to clash. As these rifts intensify, fans continue to create segregated spheres of fan identity, and must continuously renegotiate their relationships across these axes of power. By conceptualizing groups of fans as subnetworks in a network society as theorized by Manuel Castells, this thesis illustrates how fans wield networking, network, and networked power to coordinate their social interactions. Fans explicitly leverage Bourdieu’s notions of economic, social, and cultural capital to build fan subcultural capital that structures their networks. Ultimately, power is derived from geographic and cultural proximity to the media object, which exacerbates differences between fans’ cultural frameworks. These subnetworks of fans, in turn, have become attached to and identified by their geographic and cultural backgrounds, which creates intense rivalries between domestic and international fans. However, the emergence of COVID-19 and the movement online have illuminated instabilities within these subnetworks, suggesting that fans are not as strongly bound to this framework as they think. Rather than culture as the main subnetwork boundary and determinant of opinion, this thesis proposes a consideration of different “realities” occupied by subnetworks of fans, which have created completely divergent perceptions of investment, reward, and affect among fans. By analyzing discourse in online communities of Hallyu fans, this thesis explores power dynamics and sources of conflict in Asian transnational fandoms. Current scholarship in Hallyu highlights its industry potential and soft power potential, but there is a lack of scholarship exploring relationships between fans and how they negotiate power with respect to capital. Additionally, scholarship about fan power is largely focused on Western fandom and cannot accurately be used to theorize about Asian fandom due to differences in structure and behavior. Hallyu fandom as a case study thus offers an interesting perspective, given that its fixation on East Asian media objects concentrates power in Asia, which contrasts with typical white or Western hegemonic power, and its hyper-consumerist nature places an even larger emphasis on the importance of capitalistic practices. This thesis, then, highlights the unique aspects of power dynamics within non-Western transnational and transcultural fandom, and the ways in which they challenge us to reconsider existing theories of fans, networks, and power.

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