Courtney Plante, aka “Nuka” is part of the International Anime Project. In short, they study Anime fandom – as part of a larger series of groups that study fandom. Yes, he has grant money to study fandom, so of course I’m going to interview him. Oh, and scientific curiosity and geek citizenship. But also the grant part.
So let’s find out what’s up – and what you can to to help!
1) Courtney, give us an idea of how the International Anime Project start and what it’s goals are.
The International Anime Research Project started as an off-shoot of one of our research team’s other projects, the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (same initials, IARP). Broadly speaking, we’re a team of social scientists who have approached the study of one fan group in particular, the furry fandom, from a number of theoretical perspectives. After half a decade of studying furries, other fan groups have repeatedly popped up on our RADAR, either being mentioned by furries or by others comparing these groups to furries. One such group was anime fans. Anime fandom shares a lot in common with furry fandom: interest in anthropomorphic animals (e.g., walking / talking animal characters, giving animal ears / tails to human characters), costuming / cosplay, stigmatization for being considered a “child-like activity” (“watching cartoons”), and a very active internet community. People were quick to point out to us, none of whom are anime fans ourselves, that there are also a number of important differences between the anime fandom and the furry fandom, including demographic differences(anime fandom seems younger and to have more women than furry fandom), differences in culture of origin (Japan versus the United States), and differences in content creation (anime fandom is centered around professionally-created content, whereas furry fandom is centered around user-generated content).
We began to wonder about the psychological implications of these interesting similarities and differences: are they trivial, or are they “differences that make a difference?” Past psychological research on fans has been heavily criticized for focusing it attention so exclusively on British football fans, and we didn’t want to be guilty of doing the same thing by focusing exclusively on the furry fandom. And so, we began this new line of research, seeking out the important similarities and differences between two fan communities which may seem superficially similar, but which may have a number of important and interesting psychological differences.
2) What methodologies are you using – and how to you ensure they’re reliable with so many variables?
Given that our first foray into anime research is largely explorational, we had to employ a methodology that covered several important criteria:
a) We want to ask a lot of different questions about a lot of different subjects
b) We want the questions to be quantitative, so we can run statistics (and be able to compare numbers against our existing data on furries)
c) We want to be able to ask these questions to a LOT of anime fans, to get a fairly representative sample of the fandom.
d) We want this research to be relatively affordable, as we are on a limited budget.
The methodology that made the most sense, given these criteria, was a large-scale survey. Over the process of many months, our research team, beginning with a set of broad research questions, put together a large list of survey questions. From there, we began to pare the list of questions down, throwing away poorly worded or redundant questions where possible, to ultimately arrive at a survey that addressed as many questions of interest as possible while hopefully not compromising the quality of the data obtained.
Of course, there is no such thing as a “perfect question” or a “perfect survey”: science is all about trade-offs. Make the survey too long, and no one will want to do it. Make it too short, and you don’t learn very much. Similarly, ask a single question about a topic, and you risk getting biased responses based on the wording of your question. Ask too many questions about the same topic and you overcome the inherent weakness of any one question’s wording, but at the cost of being redundant. Ultimately, survey creation is an iterative process, and every member of our team went through the survey in painstaking detail to decide how best to structure it. In the end, we hope this attention to detail will provide us with reliable measurements of the variables of interest.
3) How has reception been to your research?
In general, the reception to our research has been positive, both from fans and from psychologists. Psychologists like seeing that the phenomena they study generalize to fan groups they may never have even imagined when developing their theories, and psychologists, as curious scientists, are always interested in new data about a novel or previously unstudied group. Anime fans have also shown themselves to be eager to be studied. Because of the relative lack of information about the anime community, anime fans have welcomed our research, which aims to answer questions for anime fans as well as psychologists. We hope that providing anime fans with information about their community is helpful, either to provide data to counteract harmful stereotypes about anime fans, or to help anime fans to better understand the group to which they belong!
4) How are you funded – and any tips on future researchers for getting funded?
Our research is currently funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. A year ago our team applied for funding for a large-scale project aimed at studying the similarities and differences between several different fandoms (sports fans, anime fans, furries). As for tips for future researchers on how to get funded: It’s essential to show the relevance of your work to the broader population. For example, while our work on fan groups is looking at specific fan communities, we argue that our findings may prove useful for understanding a broad range of fan communities. Moreover, we argue that our research has broader implications beyond fan communities, including implications for our understanding of how people spend their leisure time and the real-world implications of fantasy-themed leisure activities. To put it another way: you need to be able to show people, who might not care about your specific research topic, why they ought to care about your research topic!
5) Do you feel there’s enough attention paid to fandom and fan culture?
I don’t think enough attention is paid to fandom and fan culture, and it’s to our collective detriment as a society. We can learn a tremendous amount from fan communities and fan participation. After all, unlike broader culture, which we’re essentially forced to be a part of, fan communities represent groups that we choose to belong to. This is non-trivial, as knowing what motivates people to belong to particular groups can help us to better understand people in general. Additionally, with the advent of the internet, fan communities are growing in size and the ability to organize. In the future, I predict that the fan communities that people belong to may be just as meaningful a part of that person’s identity as their political affiliation or their national identity. In other words, fandoms likely matter, and it is in our best interest to understand how and why they matter to people.
Fan research is also important for another reason: surprisingly little is known about what people do in their leisure time. In modern society, which has granted people the resources and freedom to have “spare time”, it is worth asking “what do people do when they don’t have to do anything?” A growing body of research is beginning to address this question. What’s interesting about fans, in particular, is that they often devote an incredible amount of time and energy to their leisure activity: fans who memorize details, who devote time and money to their passion (e.g., cosplaying, attending conventions, buying artwork / collectible items). These are activities that people are very motivated to pursue, and it’s worth studying what drives people to become this passionate about something, and the effects of getting together a group of similarly-passionate individuals.
6) Historically, has anyone else studied fandoms?
While psychologists have taken an interest in fandoms, much of the research was largely focused on sports fans, namely British football fans. More broadly, sociologists have studied a broader range of fandoms, but until relatively recently, this was done through the lens of deviance researchers, aiming to explain what was largely considered to be uncommon or even maladaptive, even fanatical behaviour. This has begun to change in the last couple of decades, with social scientists beginning to recognize that there may be important differences between different fan groups and recognizing that for many, fan participation is a source of good in their lives.
7) How can people help you out and help you get data?
The best way to help out would be to participate in or spread the word about our online survey (https://sites.google.com/site/animeresearch/ ). Additionally, once the data have been collected and analyzed, we will be putting the information on the International Anime Research Project website. We hope that making this information available to anime fans will spark interesting discussions, both between the researchers and the anime fandom specifically but also within the fandom more broadly. Additionally, for folks who have done the survey, or who check out the results when they are posted, feedback really helps: learning what we did wrong, what we could do better, or just proposing future directions helps us to improve our research going forward. Science is an iterative process, after all: seldom do scientists get it right on the first go!
8) Once this is done, what’s next for you?
I’m not sure I’ll ever be “done” with this research, to be honest! Five years ago, I began studying the furry fandom with a small handful of research questions that I wanted to answer. It’s five years later, and while I have answered many of those initial questions, I’ve ended up with far more questions left to be answered. I would be surprised if the same thing didn’t happen with our research on anime fans. Given that I still have so much to learn about the anime fandom, I imagine that the results of this initial study will be eye-opening and will generate a whole host of new questions. I wouldn’t be much of a scientist if I didn’t have an insatiable curiosity! I suppose what’s “next” for me and the research team will be driven by what the data analyses reveal. If we find something surprising or unexpected, we’ll likely follow that up with more studies in the future. If we find similarities between anime fans and furries, it’ll be interesting to document the implications of these similarities and what they may say about fandoms in general. If we find differences between anime fans and furries, we’ll likely following those differences to try and explain the idiosyncrasies of anime fans, what makes them different!
Hopefully this answers your questions! Apologies if I was a bit long-winded! I’m happy to elaborate or answer any other questions that come up as you read this! And thanks again for your interest in covering our research!
-Courtney “Nuka” Plante
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.