Jennifer Spence

Intra-Fandom Conflicts, Virtual Heterotopias, and the Controversy of Real Person Fiction

Supervisors: Dr. Sarah Thomas and Dr. Kate Egan

While some scholarship treats fans as a unified homogenous group, my project argues that a single fandom actually consists of multiple smaller fan communities and spaces, which Rhiannon Bury (expanding on Foucault) has called “virtual heterotopias”. Although these heterotopias all share the common interest in the initial fan object, they are often at odds with each other.

One of the most common causes of this intra-fandom conflict is the introduction of a contentious derivative fan object, such as “RPF” (“Real Person Fiction”). In contrast to traditional fanfiction starring fictional characters, RPF is written by fans about celebrities and other public figures. Yet despite its historical/cultural importance as a fannish practice and lightning rod for controversy, RPF is under-studied in existing academic literature.

Through online ethnography, discourse analysis, and case studies, my project contributes to a better understanding of how particular objects endemic to fandom can generate particular reactions and affective relationships among fans. Drawing on affect theory, I argue that RPF is coded as an “unhappy” fan object. Previous work has been done on how fans come together over a happy object, but my project looks at the process in reverse: how do fandoms split and fragment over an unhappy object? How do fans create virtual heterotopias, and how do they interact with one another?

In contrast to some fan scholarship, my work does not focus exclusively on fans’ relationship to the primary fan text, but supports further research into fans’ relationships with other fans.

Jennifer can be contacted at