An Exploration of the Information Behaviours of Transmedia Fan Communities

The following summary of proposed research was submitted to the School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University in application for the doctoral studies. It was also included in application for tuition scholarships at Charles Sturt University and Swinburne University of Technology.

An Exploration of the Information Behaviours of Transmedia Fan Communities (v.4, 24/10/2015)

In an era of convergence, consumers become hunters and gatherers pulling together information from multiple sources to form a new synthesis (Jenkins, 2006a).

Context for the Study

Media convergence, as defined and popularized by Henry Jenkins (2006b), has led to new digital, multi-modal and hybrid forms of storytelling that encourage processes of participation, collaboration and remediation. Increasingly producers are creating multiplatform narratives to better reach mainstream consumers (Jenkins, 2006b; Franquet & Villa Montoya, 2013; Krikowa, 2014; Ravy, 2014). The popular television series Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, for instance, both emerged as adaptations of previously authored works, and ongoing collaborations between producers have since generated video games, mobile applications, podcasts, spinoff television series, and online commentaries, greatly expanding upon the original print-based narratives. Beyond adaptation, multiplatform narratives such as projects supported by Screen Australia’s All Media Fund (Screen Australia, 2011; Screen Australia, 2012), represent concerted efforts within the industry to produce new approaches to storytelling designed to be experienced across multiple forms of media. Moreover, communities of fans and prosumers are also forming around their shared interests of specific narrative productions (Simons, 2013; Würfel, 2013; Van Steenhuyse, 2014; Ganzon, 2014). Through the sense making and information sharing practices of these communities, as much as through the calculated efforts of producers, stories, characters and story elements evolve across platforms and spaces both physical and virtual (Scolari & Ibrus, 2013). Information behaviour as a critical lens represents a valuable and, as yet, underused approach to unraveling the individual and collective information practices generated by media convergence and transmedia storytelling.

Over the last decade transmedia and media convergence have become critical concepts in contemporary media studies (Jenkins, 2006b; Jenkins, Ford and Green, 2013; Scolari & Ibrus, 2013). Numerous scholars and practitioners have studied the emerging importance of transmedia and the roles of producers and consumers of transmedia, applying the models and approaches native to the media and communication studies domain (e.g., Scolari, 2009; Dena, 2010; Evans, 2011; Rose, 2011; Phillips, 2012). Comparatively limited research into transmedia fan communities has been undertaken from an information based perspective. Research grounded in information science principles has typically sought to address the media convergence of productions and user interactions in terms of information literacy and knowledge economy. These research studies approach transmediality as a means of improving specific educational practices (i.e., as in childhood development and information literacy instruction, e.g., Dresang and Koh, 2009; Tripp, 2011; Bowler, et al., 2012) and professional practices (i.e., such as improving library service delivery, e.g., Robinson, 2015) rather than as an object for study in and of itself. Based on this review of the literature, a lack of exploratory research using information science principles is evident, in the context of transmedia fan communities. Scolari and Ibrus (2013) call for more critically oriented but also methodologically and disciplinarily varied research into transmedia. The need to investigate how consumption practices are conditioned by the complex and contested social and cultural settings of everyday life (Scolari & Ibrus, 2013, pp. 2192-3) could be facilitated through the application of information based inquiry. Specifically, the study of the information behaviours of transmedia fan communities would offer a more comprehensive understanding of how such narratives are consumed, interpreted, exchanged and transformed across platforms and via the affordances of physical and digital media accessed by individuals.

Research Questions & Study Design

I propose to address this gap in the research by identifying and studying the information behaviours of specific transmedia fan communities. By investigating the fan communities of 3-5 transmedia story worlds (e.g., Bioware’s Dragon Age; Bethesda’s Fallout; Game of Thrones; The Walking Dead; Community TV series; Serial podcast; etc.), this project will seek to address the following research questions:

  1. In what way(s) are multiplatform and transmedia content consumed by fans?
  2. In what way(s) do communities of fans take shape around multiplatform and transmedia story worlds?
  3. What are the ways in which fan communities create and share information? (i.e., how do community members make sense of the narratives? How do they interact with these stories and with each other?)
  4. Do fan communities produce new information or content that expands upon the narratives they enjoy? If so,
    1. How is such content produced,
    2. What form(s) does it take,
    3. In what way(s) is it consumed and shared, and
    4. In what way(s) does it extend the story world?
  5. In what way(s) do the information behaviours observed among transmedia fan communities compare to each other?
  6. In what way(s) do the information behaviours observed among transmedia fan communities compare to existing observations on information behaviour in other contexts (e.g., among youth and students; among immigrant populations; among professionals, practitioners and communities of practice; in libraries; in classrooms; etc.)
    1. Based on these findings, how are the information behaviours observed understood in terms of existing theoretical models?
    2. Do these findings suggest new models of information behaviour and, if so, what are they?

Using a contructivist-interpretive paradigm, a grounded theory approach adopting ethnographic and mixed methods (e.g., participant observation, interviews, focus groups, surveys, and content analysis) would provide an exhaustive and detailed report on the information behaviours of several selected communities, their similarities and distinctions to each other as well as to information practices historically observed in other contexts. In this way, it will be possible to determine if and how media convergence is altering the ways in which consumers make sense of, engage with, and share narrative productions. Such research would also contribute valuable findings on the role of transmedia in our lives, as consumers, by introducing findings achieved through the application of a different disciplinary and theoretical lens to an emergent interdisciplinary field.

This project would have implications for researchers and practitioners in information science, education, and humanities or social sciences disciplines exploring such topics as cultural production and consumer behaviour. Transmedia and multi-modal literacy is already a topic of interest in the discipline area of education; the investigation of information behaviours related to transmedia storytelling could inform the design of services in libraries and classrooms, for example, as well as for digital marketing, including web design, and other modes of engagement with consumers. Further, exploring the collective practices of transmedia consumers/prosumers as information communities could benefit research into emerging models for information management and access. Such findings could help identify new information ethics issues and provide valuable insight to guide policy-makers. Finally, the use of information behaviour as a critical concept in understanding the phenomenon of transmedia fan communities could also advance theoretical and methodological approaches in information science, as well as encourage disciplinarily varied research into media convergence and transmedia.


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