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When I first proposed my dissertation, I wanted to focus on how fandom is produced and consumed in the U.S.

I had that inclination not because I’m a nationalist or it I thought it would be easy, but because that was the national context in which I had observed the phenomena that interested me. That was where it was happening. It might also be happening elsewhere, of course, but one can’t look at everything, and my dissertation was already complex enough (spectulative media and sports, fiction andnonfiction, representation andweb design) without doing comparative work in different national contexts.

My committee insisted, however, and I conceded the point that nations are pretty porous these days, so the contemporary conceptualization of the fan may not include being located in the territory of the nation. But I wasn’t happy about it.

However, a couple of pieces that I’ve read in the last couple of weeks have really reoriented my thought on this and made me see now how thinking transnationally is actually vital to what I want to do.

Oh, that uncomfortable feeling when you realize your committee was right. Though, in my own defense, I don’t think they were thinking about a transnational perspective in the same way I am. But they were, nevertheless, right.

You see, capital is transnational. That’s no revelation, to be sure, but I hadn’t thought about it quite that way until reading first Aphra Kerr‘s great post The Politics of Cultural Production over at Culture Digitally and second some pieces in preparation for a visit to my campus this week by sociologist Saskia Sassen.

Mindful of my own complaints last week about Academic Telephone, I want to note that both of these scholars touched on many issues and what caught my attention in relation to my own work was only a subset of this. Nevertheless, these pieces got me thinking, first, about how the work of production is dispersed across locations.

(This possibly also cemented me as a one-trick pony, cuz LABOR! Though, being a labor pony may not be so bad, if we take Julie Levin Russo’s excellent work on queer labor in My Little Pony fandomas the baseline)

Corporate media production work, both Kerr and Sassen mention (albeit somewhat briefly), travels around the globe to the places where there’s the right combination of high enough skills and low enough standards of living to maximize profit. Depending on the type of work—mining minerals, soldering chips, routine programming, or “creative” work (design)—that means different places.

If one of the things that interests me is the ways that contemporary fan-friendliness often takes the role of encouraging them to produce user-generated content, and I’m conceptualizing this as unpaid labor, the outsourcing (or, perhaps, global-sourcing if we’re not going to identify them as inherently “American jobs”) and casualization of official, paid labor has a lot to do with this as the background that makes this possible—and makes it make sense.

Moreover, if paid labor travels around until it finds a population with the right characteristics to exploit, unpaid labor would surely do the same—this, then, may be why these fan processes felt so American to me. Perhaps fans in the U.S. have a particular combination of skills, access to technology, leisure, and cultural inclinations toward individualism that makes them the right population for this sort of invitation to participate—but I can’t see that unless I work through to get to their American-ness at the end rather than starting there.

Kerr and Sassen also got me thinking, more directly in line with their respective foci, on transnational corporate action on the nation-state—in the context of my interests, I’m thinking specifically about intellectual property and antipiracy law.

Of course, this isn’t to position transnational capital as all-powerful the way the nation was once imagined to be (even if it feels that way sometimes). As Sassen puts it in her 2008 piece Neither Global nor National: Novel Assemblages of Territory, Authority and Rights, “corporate actors operating globally have pushed hard for the development of new types of formal instruments, notably intellectual property rights and standardized accounting principles. But they need not only the support, but also the actual work of each individual state where they operate to develop and implement such instruments in the specific context of each country” (p. 65).

So the nation is under a lot of pressure from transnational capital, but it still has to cooperate if those corporations are going to get what they want, and it plays out differently on the ground depending where you are—the different local outcomes of Samsung vs. Apple patent battle being fought out in courts across the globe point to this.

As Kerr puts it in her discussion of the specific case of game production:

As in other media sectors it is clear that a national focus is unhelpful in understanding the production of digital games. In order to understand how transnational corporations operate we need to attend to the ways these corporations act in multiple places. This is not to suggest that the nation-state is no longer important, but rather to state that to understand transnational games production we need to consider how transnational corporations compete, cooperate and lobby in pursuit of their interests and how states and other political entities facilitate, regulate and collude in these actions.

Sassen similarly contends that the processes she describes “does not represent the end of national states, but it does begin to disassemble the national” (p. 62). In these ways, then, it’s clear that the nation may or may not be a great analytic category anymore—at the very least, it can’t be assumed but instead has to be selectively deployed depending on the case. We are, then, witnessing “a partial de-nationalizing of what had been constructed historically as national” (p. 73).

So I guess I’ll be thinking transnationally after all.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] as already blogged, those Sassen readings helped me realize it may not be so useful to think in terms of the […]

  2. […] the complaint about not doing politics right is unwarranted; as I’ve argued drawing on Saskia Sassen,  the nation overall is a less relevant political category than it formerly was. Kligler-Vilenchik […]

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