Stories of Significance : The Process and Practises of Sense-Making in the Sherlock Fan Community

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi


Building on professor of psychology Kenneth Pargament’s claim that people actively seek to establish a sense of significance and strive to minimize its loss, this study argues that fans of fictional works continually create a (subjectively seemingly) coherent interpretation of the source text that both builds upon and supports meaningful themes and phenomena found in the text. This, in turn, generates a subjective (though often communally negotiated) sense of significance. However, such meaningful/meaning-creating interpretations – and thus the sense of significance generated by them – are constantly running the risk of being disturbed by new information or perspectives that contradict them. This risk is particularly high when the source text is still evolving, as in the case of a current book series or TV-show, which necessitates an on-going process of interpretation and coping. In this thesis I examine how a sense of significance is formed and maintained by fans of an evolving text by studying the various interpretative strategies employed by fans of the BBC TV series Sherlock. Combining in-depth interviews with data from a three-month participant observation of fan interactions primarily but not exclusively on the social network platform site Tumblr, this study aims both to deepen the understanding of some of the psychological mechanisms behind the creation, negotiation and transformation of meaning, and to examine its expressions in a specific case. 

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