Freewrite! Writing is a messy process.

When we see a finished piece of writing, we rarely see all the mess that went into creating it. As Annette M. Markham and Nancy K. Baym point out in their book, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method,

Research reports are carefully edited retrospectives, selected among different story lines and options, depending on one’s audience and goals. Within these reports, research designs are generally presented as a series of logical and chronologically ordered steps. Seasoned scholars know there’s a complex backstage story line and have experienced such complexities themselves. But for novice scholars, it is easy to imagine that the researcher’s route was successfully mapped out in advance and that interpretive findings simply emerged from the ground or fell conveniently into the path. Qualitative research requires a tolerance for chaos, ambiguity, and inductive thinking, yet its written accomplishments—particularly those published in chapters and articles rather than monographs—rarely display the researchers’ inductive pathways or the decisions that led them down those routes.

Two of my voice values are transparency and helpfulness, and I want to share some of the messier bits of my writing process. I have hopes of showing off some beautiful, colorful pen-marked-up copies of memos and notes to you in the future, but today, I’m just offering a few thoughts on freewriting.

I often hit a point where I’ve thought and thought and thought about something, ideas are all kind of swirly in my head, I’ve made notes, I’ve mapped concepts, and I’m still not ready to do formal writing for an audience that’s not me. I might be in a good place to talk to somebody, but honestly, I’m rarely around people who actually want to hear about things like affinity space ethnography (now I’m trying to imagine explaining ethnography to my 3 year old). When I’m in that place, eventually, I realize I need to…


So I open up a new document and type out what I’ve got in my head, with notes to myself but also with citations. I know I’m not inventing anything new here, but this is part of the writing process that I think it’s easy for academics to forget.

Here’s what I freewrote today:

Ethnographic methods are appropriate for studying information literacy practices that are social and occur in an affinity space, as this looks at a sociocultural phenomenon, in a naturalistic setting. These methods cannot produce a full ethnography, but rather must be partial (Hine 2000). (BUT WHY? LIKE, THERE ARE REASONS, LEARN TO ARTICULATE THEM.)

Online spaces, however, present challenges to traditional ethnographic methods. Primary among these is the problem of location-based research; using spatial metaphors to define ethnographic research sites is limiting, because:
Practices travel across various online “spaces.”
Boundaries of online spaces are porous.
And, more and more, boundaries between online and offline activity are also porous.

(Hine, 2000; Leander & McKim, 2003; Wargo 2015, 2017)

Ethnography has some key features.

  1. The selection of a “field site.”
  2. Observation or participant observation.
  3. Interviews.
  4. Artifact analysis.

There are ways to approximate these features online. The field site is the trickiest bit. It’s possible to select one environment (for example, and consider its boundaries to be the boundaries of the field site, but this lends an incomplete picture.

Now, this is not a useful introduction to ethnography for anyone. It’s incomplete, it privileges data collection over more conceptual issues. But it’s helping me move forward in my writing.

Coping when I’m not okay

I’ve been feeling moderately not okay lately. Nothing truly devastating, but a sense of doom. A sense of never being able to finish anything, of everything moving slower than I’d like while somehow also moving faster than I’d like. Of not being able to get out from under life.

I still feel that way, but I’m doing a little better today, for a couple of reasons.

  1. To appease my child, after returning some books to the university library today I went and visited with my advisor and one of my committee members, who is also a dear friend. I talked to them about my slow progress, my frustration, the stage of the work I’m in, the sense that this part is a slog. They affirmed that it’s normal to feel this way and that I’m still within my timeline for a May 2021 graduation, and I’m going to be okay. So, next time I feel this way, I should probably remember: talk to Sandra and Casey, because it always makes me feel better.
  2. A few weeks ago, I read Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map, which focuses on living according to your core desired feelings. My core desired feelings are ease, flow, creativity, and connection. I have not been doing things in alignment with bringing about these feelings, but I know that I have the power to switch things up so that I do live in that alignment, and remembering that I can do that has me feeling a lot better.

So, I’m still not okay, but now I believe I will be okay, later.

On theoretical and methodological literature reviews

My blog post, A Start-to-Finish Literature Review Workflow, is probably the most viewed thing on my website. It’s a great overview, especially for people new to writing lit reviews. I’m pretty proud of it.

But it’s incomplete.

I’ve had plans for a long time now to write a more advanced lit review tips post, as well as one with some variations and modifications on that workflow.

But today I need to talk about what’s on my mind right now, which is that theoretical and methodological lit reviews are really different from lit reviews that describe a body of research on a particular topic.

The general workflow still works for these kinds of lit reviews, but once you get to that concept mapping stage, things get a little different. So here are a few things you might consider for these types of lit reviews.

Theoretical Lit Reviews

  • Trace the development of the theory. Who first articulated it? How has it changed over time? Who refined it? Who expanded it? What did they add?
  • Synthesize the development of the theory. As people refined and expanded it, how did those refinements and expansions interact with the theory as originally proposed? Can you pull it all together into a new statement that incorporates all those different things?
  • Discuss application of the theory. (This might be beyond the scope of your literature review, but it might not.) Who has applied the theory? How did they apply it? Did their application of the theory lead them to reconsider anything about the theory?

Methodological Lit Reviews

  • Identify the origins of the methodology. What type of thing was it created to study? What problem was it trying to solve?
  • Declare key characteristics of the methodology as it has been implemented over time. Not only what it was created to study, but how writing about it has contributed to our understanding of what the methodology is. For example, Hine (2000) discusses ethnography as involving travel (whether physical or experiential), participationobservation, the ethnographer as someone with the authority to describe the “field” where the ethnography has been undertaken, the participant/informant as a member of the culture being studied, and the reader of the ethnography as someone who has neither the participant nor ethnographer’s experience and thus is gaining understanding of the culture through the ethnographer’s account.
  • Describe methodological challenges that have arisen as people have implemented the methodology, and, where possible, how people have navigated those challenges.

I’m working on a literature review about affinity space ethnography/connective ethnography right now, and as I try to organize my thoughts, thinking about these things is helping me make sense of the tons of writing there is on ethnography more broadly.


Hine, C. (2000). Virtual Ethnography. SAGE.

A Brief Manifesto for My Research

Months ago now, Margy Thomas of ScholarShape released a 7-day email course called Deep Why. I tucked all the messages away in my Gmail archives and am just getting to them now. I’ll post my responses to some of them here on my blog.

The first prompt is to reflect on your manifesto:

 In writing a manifesto, we let ourselves imagine the positive change that we can create through the knowledge we’re building.

I’m writing one here. This isn’t a manifesto for life; it’s a manifesto specifically for my dissertation research. You can see the draft prospectus for that research here. Feel free to annotate it.

In the video that accompanied the prompt, Margy suggested that a manifesto articulates two things: VALUES and VISION. So that’s how I’m organizing this manifesto.


My research takes an asset-based approach to information literacy. It’s easy to find doomy proclamations that kids don’t know how to find, evaluate, or use information. But they do it all the time, in pursuing their passions. Young people have information literacy: it just isn’t necessarily aligned with the way educators are attempting to teach and assess their information literacy. My research sees information literacy instruction and assessment as related to culturally sustaining pedagogy: just as young people’s heritage and community cultural practices are resources to honor, explore, and extend, so are their information literacy practices.

(So much credit is due to Dr. Crystle Martin, upon whose dissertation my work is building, for articulating this asset-based view of information literacy before me, and to Dr. Django Paris, for introducing the concept of culturally sustaining pedagogy, as well, of course, to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, for introducing culturally relevant pedagogy before that.)


In my research, I seek to apply Dr. Martin’s model of information literacy, which takes this asset-based approach, to a new context: the cosplay affinity space. I also hope to find ways to extend or enhance her model, as new pieces of the interest-driven information literacy picture emerge from my findings. The ultimate vision is to create an accessible, asset-based model of information literacy and then share it widely with librarians and educators, along with ideas for how they might teach and assess information literacy in ways that are aligned with young people’s individual and collective information literacy practices. Or, more colloquially:

I want librarians and educators to stop treating kids like they don’t already know how to deal with information, and instead to start looking for ways kids can transfer the skills they use to deal with information in their own interest-driven pursuits across contexts, to address their academic, professional, and everyday problems.

Jargon in Academia

I’m having a little brainstorm over here about my frustration with jargon in academia and the way disciplines borrow from each other and then deposit that jargon on students as though they already know what these things mean, and it’s not all coming together yet so I thought I’d just throw some words out here and some of them will have notes on my understanding but others won’t yet.

space and place – this is what launched this brainstorm, because I was reading about bringing a spatial perspective to the internet and because I’m doing work on affinity spaces. A quick Google tells me that this comes from geography, from the work of Yi-Fu Tuan, and I have heard people throw this around so much in educational research and to a lesser extent in information science research, and I think it’s probably a really useful concept but at no point did anyone offer me an introduction to it as though it were a new thing.

Paulo Freire – I really ought to have read this guy’s stuff. I haven’t yet. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

Habitus (Pierre Bourdieu) – SAME. In my second semester of my doc program, John Martin was all “Bourdieu’s habitus” and, like, I know, he was right, this is a thing I should know, because I’m researching practices, and practice theory is a thing, and this is another one where it’s like, okay, I’ll get there someday I hope.

Bakhtinian carnivalesque – I ran across this because of cosplay but I first came across Mikhail Bakhtin‘s work when I was doing a paper on expansive learning, and guess what, I could probably stand to read some more Bakhtin.

semiotics – this comes up a lot for me right now because Gee’s work is all over semiotics and Discourse/discourse and blah blah discursive practices blah.

hermeneutics – Ran across this one in an English class that I thought was about Digital Editing, which it technically was, I just didn’t know that editing has a different meaning in academic English circles than it does in the circles where I ran prior to starting a PhD.

I’m a fourth-gen postgrad and I struggle with this jargon. I don’t know how anyone makes time to deeply understand theory, especially theory translated into English from other languages, and I’ve taken two theory classes and three qual methods classes.

All of this language, in my experience, serves the purpose of gatekeeping and alienating people who could be doing phenomenal work. (Epiphenomenal?) How do we fix it? Can we fix it?

I kind of want to make it my job to fix it.

Memo: Affinity Spaces

Gee introduced the concept of affinity spaces in his book Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling (2004). Affinity spaces are a subset of what Gee calls a semiotic social space, a type of space for interaction with an infrastructure incorporating content, generators, content organization, interactional organization, and portals. Content is what the space is “about,” and is provided by content generators. Gee uses the example of a video game (the generator), which generates a variety of content (words, images, etc.). The space is then organized in two different ways: content is organized by the designers, whereas interaction is organized by the people interacting with the space, in how they “organize their thoughts, beliefs, values, actions, and social actions” (Gee, 2004, p. 81) in relationship to the content. This interaction creates a set of social practices and typical identities present in the space. The content necessarily influences the interaction, but interaction can also influence content. For example, with a video game, player reactions to the game may influence future updates to the game. Finally, Gee defines portals as “anything that gives access to the content and to ways of interacting with that content, by oneself or with other people” (Gee, 2004, p. 81). In Gee’s video game example, this could be the game itself, but it could also be fan websites related to the game. Portals can become generators, “if they allow people to add to content or change the content other generators have generated” (Gee, 2004, p. 82). A video game website might include additional maps that players can download and use to play the game or offer recordings of gameplay to serve as tutorials or entertainment. A generator can also be a portal; for the video game example, the game disc or files both offer the content and can be used to interact with the content.

Gee builds on this description of a semiotic social space to describe “affinity spaces,” a particular type of semiotic social space that young people today experience often. The “affinity” to which Gee refers is not primarily for the other people in the space, but for “the endeavor or interest around which the space is organized” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 84). He defines an affinity space as a space that has a number of features:

  1. “Common endeavor, not race, class, gender, or disability, is primary” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 85). People in the affinity space relate to each other based on common interests, while attributes such as race, class, gender, and disability may be used strategically if people choose.
  2. “Newbies and masters and everyone else share common space” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 85). People with varying skill levels and depth of interest share a single space, getting different things out of the space in accordance with their own purposes.
  3. “Some portals are strong generators” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 85). People can create new content related to the original content and share it in the space.
  4. “Content organization is transformed by interactional organization”(J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 85). Or “Internal grammar is transformed by external grammar” (Gee, 2005, p. 226) Creators of the original content modify it based on the interactions of the people in the space.
  5. “Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 85). Specialized knowledge in a particular area is encouraged (intensive knowledge), but the space also encourages people to develop a broad range of less specialized knowledge (extensive knowledge).
  6. “Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 86). People are encouraged to store knowledge in their own heads, but also to use knowledge stored elsewhere, including in other people, materials, or devices, using a network of people and information to access knowledge.
  7. “Dispersed knowledge is encouraged” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 86). One portal in the space encourages people to leverage knowledge gained from other portals or other spaces.
  8. “Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 86). People can use knowledge that they have built up “but may not be able to explicate fully in words” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 86) in the space. Others can learn from this tacit knowledge by observing its use in the space.
  9. “There are many different forms and routes to participation” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 87). People can participate in different ways and at different levels.
  10. “There are lots of different routes to status” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 87). People can gain status by being good at different things or participating in different activities.
  11. “Leadership is porous and leaders are resources” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 87). No one is the boss of anyone else; people can lead by being designers, providing resources, or teaching others how to operate in the space. “They don’t and can’t order people around or create rigid, unchanging, and impregnable hierarchies” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 87).

A space does not need to have all of these features to be considered an affinity space; rather, these features can be considered as a measure of the degree to which a space is an affinity space or how effective an affinity space it is. Affinity spaces can be nested within one another (J. P. Gee, 2017); for example, a website devoted to The Sims video game fanfiction would be an affinity space itself, while also being part of the broader The Sims affinity space, the gaming affinity space, and the fanfiction affinity space.
At first glance, an affinity space may seem very similar to a community of practice as described by Lave and Wenger (1991); Gee argues, however, that defining a community implies labeling a group of people, including determining “which people are in and which are out of the group, how far they are in or out, and when they are in and out” (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 78). Talking about spaces instead of communities removes this concern of membership; people who are present in a space may or may not be part of a community. Further, Lave and Wenger’s original conception of communities of practice described movement from peripheral participation for what Gee would call “newbies” to central participation as “masters,” while in affinity spaces, newbies do not need to be apprenticed to masters to become deeply involved in the space’s activity.

Gee (2004, 2005) offered the concept of affinity spaces as part of a critique of how schooling works; he argues that “people learn best when their learning is part of a highly motivated engagement with social practices which they value” (Gee, 2004, p. 77) and suggests that affinity spaces facilitate this kind of engagement. Gee argues that as young people encounter more and more affinity spaces, they see a “vision of learning, affiliation, and identity” that is more powerful than what they see in school (J. P. Gee, 2004, p. 89). He suggests that educators can learn from the design and construction of affinity spaces.

After Gee introduced the concept of affinity spaces, scholars investigated specific affinity spaces and what lessons they might have for educators working in the areas of literacy (Rebecca W. Black, 2007, 2008; R. W. Black, 2007; Lam, 2009), science (Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008), and mathematics (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2009). These studies supported Gee’s original conception of affinity spaces, finding many features of affinity spaces in their research settings, which included fanfiction websites (Rebecca W. Black, 2007, 2008; R. W. Black, 2007), anime/manga discussion forums (Lam, 2009), and massively multiplayer online games and their related discussion forums (Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008; Steinkuehler & Williams, 2009).

Refining the Concept of Affinity Space

As the technology available for online participation shifted from predominantly individual websites or forums to predominantly social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube, online affinity spaces shifted as well. In the introduction to the book Learning in Video Game Affinity Spaces, Hayes and Duncan (2012) point out that, like online culture more broadly, online affinity spaces present a “quickly moving target” (p. 10) for study. They call for a refined and expanded conception of affinity spaces in light of this fact. While Gee’s (2005; 2004) original conception of affinity spaces consisted of eleven features that may or may not be present in any given affinity space, in his afterword to Hayes and Duncan’s (2012) book, he identifies five key features of what he now calls “passionate affinity spaces”:

  1. People in a passionate affinity space interact around shared goals because of a shared passion, not because of shared backgrounds, age, status, gender, ability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or values unless these are integral to the passion.
  2. Not everyone interacting in the space need have a passion for the shared interest (they could simply have an interest), but they must acknowledge and respect the passion and the people who have it and who form the main “attractor” for the space.
  3. People earn status and influence in the space because of accomplishments germane to the passion, not because of wealth or status in the world outside the space.
  4. The space offers everyone the opportunity, should they want it, to produce, not just consume, and to learn to mentor and lead, not just to be mentored and follow.
  5. People in the space agree to rules of conduct – and often enforce them together – that facilitate the other features above. (J. P. Gee, 2012, p. 238)

Gee and Hayes (2010, 2012, 2011) distinguish between “nurturing” and “elitist” affinity spaces. Building on Gee’s earlier work and drawing on studies of fan sites associated with the computer game The Sims, Gee and Hayes “identify features of what [they] call nurturing affinity spaces that are particularly supportive of learning” (p. 129). They describe the following fifteen features of affinity spaces and the ways they are enacted in nurturing affinity spaces:

  1. “A common endeavor for which at least many people in the space have a passion – not race, class, gender, or disability – is primary.” (p. 134) Gee and Hayes assert that the passion in an affinity space is for the endeavor or interest rather than the people; in nurturing affinity spaces, participants in the space understand that “spreading this passion, and thus ensuring the survival and flourishing of the passion and the affinity space, requires accommodating new members and encouraging committed members” (p. 135). Affinity spaces that are not nurturing may treat newcomers poorly or restrict access to participation according to experience.
  2. “Affinity spaces are not segregated by age.” (p. 135) In a nurturing affinity space, older participants in the affinity space set norms of “cordial, respectful, and professional behavior that the young readily follow” (p. 135) while in other affinity spaces, knowledge accrued with age may not be readily shared.
  3. “Newbies, masters, and everyone else share a common space” (p. 136). Nurturing affinity spaces make it easy for newcomers to participate, avoiding hazing or testing new participants.
  4. “Everyone can, if they wish, produce and not just consume.” (p. 137) Nurturing affinity spaces set high standards for production, enforcing them through “respectful and encouraging mentoring.”
  5. “Content is transformed by interaction.” (p. 137)
  6. “The development of both specialist and broad, general knowledge is encouraged, and specialist knowledge is pooled.” (p. 138) Within a nurturing affinity space, specialists understand that their knowledge is partial, and everyone pools their knowledge by sharing it in the space.
  7. “Both individual knowledge and distributed knowledge are encouraged” (p. 139). “Nurturing affinity spaces tend to foster a view of expertise as rooted more in the space itself or the community that exists in the space and not in individuals’ heads” (p. 139)
  8. “The use of dispersed knowledge is facilitated” (p. 140).
  9. “Tacit knowledge is used and honored; explicit knowledge is encouraged” (p. 141).
  10. “There are many different forms and routes to participation” (p. 142).
  11. “There are many different routes to status.” (p. 142)
  12. “Leadership is porous, and leaders are resources.” (p. 143)
  13. “Roles are reciprocal.” (p. 143)
  14. “A view of learning that is individually proactive but does not exclude help is encouraged.” (p. 143)
  15. “People get encouragement from an audience and feedback from peers, although everyone plays both roles at different times.” (p. 144)

Referring to the work of Gee and Hayes, Hayes and Duncan point out that “…while elitist spaces are sites of very high knowledge production, they tend to value a narrow range of skills and backgrounds, have clear hierarchies of status and power, and disparage newcomers who do not conform to fairly rigid norms for behavior” (2012, p. 11). Gee and Hayes (2010, 2011, 2012) suggest that nurturing spaces are more conducive to learning than elitist spaces.

Over time, Gee (2017) has refined the vocabulary that refers to affinity spaces. The attractor is “the thing for which people who move around in the big space have a shared interest or passion. It also beckons to anyone who enters any part of the space and seeks to entice him or her to stay in the space.” (p. 113) People who enter the affinity space because of an interest in or passion are affines. “Clumps of people who [overlap] in a good deal in various subspaces (locations)” of a larger affinity space and thus bump “into one another rather regularly” are fellow travelers (p. 113). Home bases “are key places where fellow travelers come together a good deal to engage in the activities that keep their shared affinity alive. They are places where the people with the most passion for the shared affinity are the key organizers, motivators, teachers, and standard-setters for the affinity space as a whole” (p. 114). A group of closely connected home bases form a home-base cluster.

Expanding the Concept of Affinity Space

Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico (Curwood, Magnifico, & Lammers, 2013; Lammers, Curwood, & Magnifico, 2012; Magnifico, Lammers, & Curwood, 2013) draw on their research on adolescent literacy in the affinity spaces related to The Sims, The Hunger Games, and Neopets to “explicate nine features of an expanded notion of affinity spaces” (p. 45). Lammers and colleagues point out that the “introduction of numerous online technologies and social networking sites has created affinity spaces that are constantly evolving, dynamic, and networked in new ways” (p. 47). In the time of Gee’s original affinity space conception, a researcher might consider an affinity space “defined by one central portal (for instance, a discussion board),” but Lammers and colleagues point out that “contemporary affinity spaces often involve social media such as Facebook and Twitter, creative sites like DeviantArt and, and blogging platforms such as Tumblr and WordPress” (p. 47). One participant may operate in an affinity space that networks all of these different technologies; accordingly, knowledge within an affinity space “is effectively distributed across learners, objects, tools, symbols, technologies and the environment” (p. 48).

Working toward developing a new research method they call “affinity space ethnography,” Lammer, Curwood, and Magnifico offer the following features of contemporary affinity spaces for consideration:

  1. “A common endeavor is primary.” (p. 48)
  2. “Participation is self-directed, multifaceted and dynamic.” (p. 48) Participants in an affinity space do not only participate in existing portals, but may build their own portals to generate content.
  3. “In online affinity space portals, participation is often multimodal” (p. 48). Contrasting Gee’s research on early text-based discussion boards as portals, Lammers and colleagues point out that participants in contemporary affinity spaces may produce not just text, images, websites, or maps as in the affinity spaces Gee originally described but also videos, maps, podcasts, and machinima.
  4. “Affinity spaces provide a passionate, public audience for content.” (p. 49)
  5. “Socialising plays an important role in affinity space participation.” (p. 49)
  6. “Leadership roles vary within and among portals.” (p. 49)
  7. “Knowledge is distributed across the entire affinity space.” (p. 49)
  8. “Many portals place a high value on cataloguing and documenting content and practices” (p. 49).
  9. “Affinity spaces encompass a variety of media-specific and social networking portals” (p. 50).

Bommarito also aims to expand the notion of affinity spaces; specifically, he states that “the present view of affinity spaces fails to explain how participants cohere when the group’s focus on a common endeavor is called into question, becomes unclear or disappears altogether” (p. 408). Based on a wide variety of affinity spaces research published by other scholars, Bommarito proposes a situated model of affinity spaces. Bommarito identifies certain assumptions in early definitions of affinity spaces that he argues limit “the ability of researchers to investigate the evolving nature of affinity spaces” (p. 410). These assumptions include:

  1. “That the important activity in an affinity space is only that which contributes directly to the group’s shared interest or common endeavor” (p. 410)
  2. “That the development of strong bonds among participants in an affinity space is necessarily subordinate to taking part in the group’s shared interest or common endeavor” (p. 410)
  3. “That affinity spaces are largely stable entities, confined to single sites or discussion boards” (p. 411)

Bommarito proposes a situated model of affinity spaces (p. 411), in which affinity spaces shift between a “passionate” state, clearly focused on a shared interest, and a “deliberative” state, when the shared interest becomes unclear and participants have to resolve challenges unrelated to their shared interest. In the “passionate” state, the primary mode of interaction is what Bommarito calls “negotiation,” in which participants exchange ideas directly related to the shared interest or the organization of the space in a way that does not supersed the established shared interest; in the “deliberative state,” it is “deliberation,” in which participants debate “the nature of the shared interest itself” (p. 412) and what the space will become, potentially even changing or expanding the scope of the interest or shifting so that relationships become primary and the interest secondary.
Participants in affinity spaces must deal with two different types of challenges, which Bommarito identifies as “adaptive” or “technical” drawing on Heifetz (1994). “According to Heifetz (1994, p. 72), technical problems are those for which ‘the necessary knowledge about them already has been digested and put in the form of a legitimized set of known organizational procedures guiding what to do and role authorizations guiding who should do it’.” (p. 413) This is the kind of problem participants tend to face when an affinity space is in a passionate state, when “participation means, primarily, gaining technical knowledge and skills related to the shared interest” (p. 413) and the problems to be solved are clearly related to the space’s shared endeavor. “Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are situations in which ‘no adequate response has yet been developed’, ‘no clear expertise can be found’ and ‘no single sage has general credibility’ (Heifetz, 1994, p. 72)” and are the kinds of challenges participants face when the space is in a deliberative state, in which participants are “, identifying problems unrelated to some common endeavor while also pursuing and evaluating possible solutions as a collective.” (p. 413). Bommarito asserts, “For the affinity space that has lost a clear grasp of its common endeavor, members must adapt if they are to avoid dissolution.” (p. 413)

Bommarito also contrasts affinity spaces as to whether their participants can be considered a “seriality” or a “group”, drawing on Young (1997). “Young (1997, p. 23), explicitly drawing on Jean-Pau l Sartre (1976), argues that a series is a collective of individuals organized around some material object and the social practices related to that object.” (p. 413) When the affinity space is in a passionate state, its participants can be considered a seriality. “According to Young, however, serial collectivity is distinguished from groups in that groups are organized around individuals’ relationships to one another rather than to some external object or interest.” When the affinity space is in a deliberative state, its participants can be considered a group: their relationships become the heart of the space, rather than the shared endeavor.

From Spaces to Networks

The Leveling Up Study of the Connected Learning Research Network “was designed to investigate the role that online affinity networks play, and could potentially play, in connected learning” (Ito et al., 2019, p. 4). While Gee first used the term “affinity” to indicate the affinity participants in a space had for their shared endeavor, Ito, Martin, Pfister, Rafalow, Salen, and Wortman (2019) use it to indicate not only the interest in the endeavor itself but also “in order to highlight [the interest’s] relational and culturally situated nature” (p. 18), reflecting Bommarito’s (2014) emphasis on the social relationships developed within an affinity space. They use the term “network” rather than “space” to capture a wide spectrum of participation from casual to serious.

“Online affinity networks… are collectives that have shared interests, practices, and marked roles in the community that define levels of responsibility and expertise…” but also allow for more casual participation: “lurkers, observers, and transient participants” (p. 39). These networks are “united by a shared content world, infrastructure, and affinity,” but “successful online affinity networks are spaces of constant renewal” (p. 23) and “are sustained through interpersonal relationships, shared activities, and a sense of cultural affinity” (p. 40).

Online affinity networks have three key characteristics:

  1. They are specialized, focusing on a specific affinity or interest.
  2. Involvement in them is intentional; participants choose to affiliate with the network and can move easily in and out of engagement with the network.
  3. “Content sharing and communication take place on openly networked online platforms” (p. 42) New participants can find the networks on the open internet and do not have to enter into a financial transaction or have any specific institutional membership in order to participate.

This shift from affinity spaces to affinity networks reflects both Bommarito’s (2014) suggestion that the relational nature of affinity spaces is a key part of their participants’ experience and the sustainability of the space, and also incorporates the concept of multiple and varied portals that Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico (2012) suggest must be kept in mind when studying an affinity space.


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Black, R. W. (2008). Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction. Peter Lang.
Curwood, J. S., Magnifico, A. M., & Lammers, J. C. (2013). Writing in the wild: Writers’ motivation in fan-based affinity spaces. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy: A Journal from the International Reading Association, 56(8), 677–685.
Gee, J. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From the age of mythology to today’s schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.), Beyond communities of practice: Language, power, and social contex (pp. 214–232).
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Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2012). Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Game-Based Learning. In C. Steinkuehler, K. Squire, & S. Barab (Eds.), Games, Learning, and Society : Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age (pp. 129–153). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. R. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age. New York: Routledge.
Hayes, E. R., & Duncan, S. C. (Eds.). (2012). Learning in Video Game Affinity Spaces. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.
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Magnifico, A. M., Lammers, J. C., & Curwood, J. S. (2013). Collaborative learning across space and time: ethnographic research in online affinity spaces. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. Madison, WI: International Society of the Learning Sciences, 81–84.
Steinkuehler, C., & Duncan, S. (2008). Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17(6), 530–543.
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Why I Have Trouble Fanning These Days

I’ve been listening to the latest episode of Fansplaining, with guest Emily Nussbaum, and it’s led me to sort of a revelation.

[First, an aside: Emily Nussbaum mentions in the episode that in her Buffy days she was on the Bronze. It’s no secret that that was my first fannish home. It’s so nice to hear about Bronzers in the world. I don’t know if Emily would call herself a Bronzer, but my definition is just somebody who spent time at the Bronze, so she counts.]

Since I decided to do my dissertation on the information literacy practices of cosplayers, I’ve been reconnecting with fandom. For years now, I’ve had trouble staying connected to any particular fandom specifically, and fandom itself in general, for a number of reasons:

  • my fannish home being in diaspora
  • burnout after a failed Save Our Show campaign
  • the proliferation of social networks
  • grad school
  • parenting

W. has repeatedly suggested that being fannish is easier in your teens and 20s when you have fewer responsibilities than it is in your 30s when you have a kid, and that’s fair. But I always feel like none of these explanations are quite enough.

Listening to Emily Nussbaum say:

“…the situation in which somebody produces an entire show and then releases it to the audience changes the way that people talk about TV when it doesn’t come out week-by-week.”

…gave me a little lightbulb moment.

My primary fandoms have all been week-by-week TV fandoms: Sailor Moon when it aired as an afternoon show in the 90s, Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngelFireflyWonderfalls (yes, Wonderfalls!), The Inside (I’m here for Tim Minear’s most obscure work), Veronica Mars, 30 RockNew Girl. The intensity of my participation in fandom for each of these varies, but other than a brief flirtation with Star Wars fic in high school because Sonja was doing it, and some heavy time spent reading Harry Potter fic and playing in related RPs, weekly television is my medium of choice.

And the way we talked about weekly television in the late 90s and early 2000s is how I know to talk about things as a fan: what is the significance of what just happened? What will happen next? What do we wish would happen next?

You can do all of these things after bingeing a season of Stranger Things, and I do (though mostly only with W.), but it feels different somehow.

I’m going to try and crack it. I’m going to figure it out with Glow.

Anyway, this has not gone very far, but it’s just something that I thought about and wanted to write about a little bit.

The Space Between: Reading, Writing, and a Third Thing (Thinking?)

I’m not a very efficient writer.

I have 20 hours of childcare a week, and usually lose two or three of those hours to late arrival (mine), getting settled in, and winding down.

It feels like I ought to be spending every minute of that time either reading or writing.

But I actually spend a lot of it giving my mind space to process what I’ve read or reorganize what I’ve written.

Brigid Schulte writes about realizing that many of the world’s great male artists had women (wives, housekeepers, mothers) who protected their time for them. They used this time not just for the physical act of producing, but also for taking long, silent walks where they thought through their work. Schulte points out that throughout history, women’s time has been fragmented, and they have carved their work time out of these little slivers.

My time is extremely fragmented, though less so than when my son was an infant. He sometimes blesses me by taking a long nap, which I inevitably use as leisure time rather than work time because honestly, my brain is just usually no good for work at the time that he’s napping. (I also can’t rely on these naps, so I’m afraid to plan to work during them, because sometimes he doesn’t take them.) My mother-in-law also helps out by spending several hours with him every week, and my partner takes care of most of the things that those great artists’ wives, mothers, and housekeepers did, in spite of having a full-time job himself.

So, I’m blessed.

But I still feel wrong when, instead of churning out my own words or filling my head with the words of others, I take time to stare.

Even though that’s where my words come from, that space between reading and writing.

I need to reconceptualize this space as part of the writing process.

What about you? Have you successfully given yourself permission to view thinking time as productive time?

Life online and losing and finding my faith in it

Get ready for some rambling, stream-of-consciousness, blogging-as-thinking.

As a member of the Oregon Trail generation, I came of age alongside the Web. I had access to much of it a little earlier than my peers, because my dad’s work provided home access for him. As an adolescent, I had this sort of constant feeling of the immense potential of my life ahead of me and of the Web, and as a young adult I really leaned into that, blogging starting in 2001. It’s not a big leap from me to this rando kid on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “I Robot, You Jane” who says, “The only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive.” I feel this visceral connection to the Web that I have a hard time putting in words.

As I shared last weekend, I’ve been looking at Pierre Levy‘s writings on collective intelligence and cyberculture. I shared in the IndieWeb chat that I was reading Collective Intelligence and it was making me deeply sad. I actually had to put the book down several times and hit a bit of a wall in my plans for my comps because I just didn’t know how to recover from this sadness. The French edition of Collective Intelligence was published in 1994, and full of the kind of technoutopian rhetoric that I believed for years, that kind of still hums in my veins a bit. And reading it made me so sad about what I imagine we’ve lost, the weird internet Vicki Boykis talks about. Specifically, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that the kind of collaboration that excited me about the web, and that Web 2.0 promised to make more accessible, is so much harder to find now, perhaps nearly impossible, because of silos and the proliferation of advertising.

And maybe it’s because I’m 38 instead of 18 that I’m feeling this way, maybe it’s something else, maybe I’m wrong. I just felt immensely defeated, even in the face of examples to the contrary. I just felt sad and overwhelmed and to be honest, this feeling hasn’t gone away entirely.

But then I was poking around the Vaporwave subreddit, which of course is a brilliant place to be if you’re feeling disillusioned by the false promises of and simultaneously nostalgic for 90s-era technoutopianism, and found the thread for VA:10, a project resulting from collaboration between 88 creators, with plans to create not just an album, but also a film and an art book, documenting this digitally-born musical genre and aesthetic. With plans to donate all proceeds to the Internet Archive.

And my faith came back a little.

Other stuff from this week: