‘Fan Researchers’: Supporting students to explore youth cultures

Among the most pleasing aspects of being an academic is engaging with young adults who are interested in the same or similar research topics as oneself. So, when an undergraduate student from another university contacted me to ask if I would mind being interviewed for her documentary on “contemporary club culture” which would form part of her final year assessment, I jumped at the chance.

From past experience, these students are incredibly active and passionately interested in what us ageing academics call “youth cultures” or “youth scenes”; it is precisely that passion and interest that drives their desire to study them. Whilst highly motivated and keen, they typically need guidance around how to focus their often broad brush interests, reign in their passion and produce a viable study with that much needed critical edge.

There has been criticism from some quarters that we should not encourage ‘fan research’ among students (nor indeed established academics!) as it has a tendency to produce solipsistic journalistic and sloppy academic outputs. Yet this seems to be a case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, an oddly popular phrase among academics, but maybe that reflection is another blog post for another day!

Some of the most robust and engaging research on dance club cultures has come from what might broadly be called ‘fan researchers’. At a British Academy/University of Manchester event I attended yesterday on ‘Material, Affective and Sensory Turns in the Academy’, I was surprised and pleased to be reminded by Professor David Howes – Canadian Anthropologist and Director of the Concordia Sensoria Research Team (CONSERT) – of Phil Jackson’s fantastic book published in 2004 titled Inside Clubbing: Sensual Experiments in the Art of Being Human, Oxford: Berg.  Away from dance club cultures, Paul Hodkinson‘s (2002) book Goth remains for me the paragon of researching a culture from what Paul refers to as a ‘critical insider’ position.

Much has been said and much more needs to be said on ‘fan research’, on insider/outsider research positions, and more practically on what is ‘best’ for our students to be researching in-depth during their precious years at university. What seems abundantly clear however is that encouraging students to harness their passionate interest in youth cultures is rewarding for lecturer and student alike, and can produce some bold pieces of work worthy of our attention.

“Living in Ecstasy – The Rise of the MDMA”

And so it is in this spirit that I dedicate this blog post to Clodagh whose professionalism through the process impressed me greatly and whose unbound enthusiasm for club cultures research helped reignite mine 🙂

Rave safe,