From Seriality to Transmediality: A Socio-Narrative Approach of a Skilful and Literate Audience

Céline Masoni Lacroix

Abstract


Screens, as technological but also narrative and social devices, alter reading and writing practices. Users consume vids, read stories on the Web, and produce creative contents on blogs or Web archives, etc. Uses of seriality and transmediality are here discussed, that is watching, reading, and writing as interpreting, as well as respective and reciprocal uses of iteration and interaction (with technologies and with others). A specific figure of users or readers will be defined as a skilful and literate audience: fans on archives (FanFiction.net-FFNet, and Archive of Our Own-AO3). Fans produce serial and transmedia narratives based upon their favourite TV Shows, publish on-line, and often produce discourses or meta-discourse on this writing practice or on writing in general.

The broader perspective of reception studies allows us to develop a three-step methodology that develops into a process. The first step is an ethnographic approach based on practices and competencies of users. The second step develops and clarifies the ethnographic dimension into an ethno-narrative approach, which aims at analysing mutual links between signs, texts, and uses of reading and writing. The main question is that of significance and meaning. The third step elaborates upon interactions in a technological and mediated environment. Social, participative, or collaborative and multimodal dimensions of interacting are yet regarded as key elements in reshaping a reading-writing cultural practice. The model proposed is a socio-narrative device, which hangs upon three dimensions: techno-narrative, narratological, and socio-narrative. These three dimensions of a shared narrative universe illustrate the three steps process. Each step also offers specific uses of interacting: an ethnographic approach of fictional expectation, a narrative ethnography of iteration and transformation, and a socio-narrative perspective on dialogism and recognition. A specific but significant example of fans' uses of reading and interacting will illustrate each step of the methodology. This qualitative approach of individual uses aims to be representative of fans' cultural practice (See Appendix 1). We will discuss cultural uses of appropriation. How do reading, interpreting, writing, and rewriting, that is to say interacting, produce meaning, create identities, and build up our relation to others and to the (story)world? Given our interest in embodied and appropriated meanings, appropriation will be revealed as an open cultural process, which can question the conflict and/or the convergence of the old and the new in cultural practices, and the way former and formal dichotomies have to be re-evaluated. We will take an interest in the composition of meaning that unfolds a cultural and critical process, from acknowledgement to recognition, a process where iteration and transformation are no longer opposites but part of a continuum.

From Users' Competencies to the Composition of Narrative and Social Skills: A Fictional Expectation

The pragmatic question of real uses steers our approach toward reading and writing in a mediated environment. Michel de Certeau's work first encourages us to apply his concepts of strategies and tactics to institutional strategies of engaging the audience and to real audience tactics of appropriation or diversion. Real uses are traceable on forums, discussions groups, weblogs, and archives. A model can be built upon digital tracks of use left on fan fiction archives: types of audience, interactions, and types of usage are here considered.

Media
Types
                                                        

Interaction
Types
                                                        

Usage
Types
                                                                                                                

Media audience




  • Consumer
  • Skilful



  • Viewing
  • Reading
  • Information search
  • Content production (informative, critical, and creative)

Multimedia audience







  • Consumer
  • Skilful






+

  • Online reading
  • E-shopping
  • Sharing
  • Recommendation
  • Discussion
  • Informative content production

Cross-media audience





  • Consumer
  • Skilful




+

  • Serendipity
  • Putting objects in perspective
  • Networking
  • Critical content production

Transmedia audience






  • Consumer
  • Skilful
  • Involved
  • Precursor



+

  • Understanding enhanced narratives
  • Value judgments, evaluation
  • Understanding economic dimensions of the media system
  • Creative content production

Table 1 (Cailler and Masoni Lacroix)

Users gear their reading and writing practices toward one medium, or toward multiple media in multi-, cross-, and trans- dimensions. These dimensions engage different and specific kinds of content production, and also the way users think about their relation to the media system. We focus on cumulative uses needed in an evolving media system. Depending on their desire for cultural products issued from creative and entertainment industries, audiences can be consumer-oriented or skilful, but also what we term "involved" or "precursor." Their interactive capacity within these industries allows audiences to produce informative, narrative, discursive, creative (or re-creative), and critical content. An ethnographic approach, based upon uses, understands that accumulating, crossing, and mastering different uses requires available and potential competencies and literacies, which may be immediately usable, or which have to be gained.

Graph 1

Figure 1 (Masoni Lacroix and Cailler)

The English language enables us to use different words to specify competencies, from ability to skill (when multiple abilities tend towards appropriation), to capability and competency (when multiple skills tend towards cultural practice). This introduces an enhancement process, which describes the way users accumulate and cross competencies to enhance their capability of understanding a multimedia or transmedia system, shaped by multiple semiotic systems and literacies.

Abilities and skills represent different literacies that can be distributed in four groups-literacy, graphic literacy, digital literacy and interactive literacy, converging to a core of competencies including cognitive capability, communicative capability, cultural capability and critical capability. Note that critical skills appear below in bold italics.

                                               
Digital Literacy
Technical ability / Computational ability / Digital ability or skill
                                               Informational skill

                                               
Visual Literacy
Graphic ability
Visual ability
Semiotic skill
Symbolic skill

                                                  
Core of Competencies
Cognitive capability
Communicative capability
Cultural capability
Critical capability

                                               
Interactive Literacy
Interactional ability
Spectatorial ability
Collective ability
Affective skill

 

                                               Literacy
Narrative ability or skill / Linguistic ability / Reading and interpreting ability / Mimetic and fictional ability
                                               Discursive skill

Table 2 (Masoni Lacroix and Cailler)

Our first illustration exhibits the diversity, even the profuse and confused multiplicity, of cultural influences and preferences of a fan, which he or she comprehends as a whole.

Gabihime, born on 6 October in Lafayette, Louisiana, in the United States, joined FFNet in 2001, and last updated her profile in September of 2010. She has written 44 stories for a variety of fandoms, and she belongs to two fandom communities. She has written one story about Twin Peaks (1990-) for an annual fandom gift exchange in 2008. Within Twin Peaks, her favourite and only romantic pair is Audrey Horne and Dale Cooper. Pairing represents a formal and cultural use of fan fiction writing, and also a favourite variation of the original text. Gabihime proposes notes to follow the story:

I love Twin Peaks, and I love Audrey Horne particularly, and the rich stilted imagery of the show certainly […] I started watching my favourite season one episodes and reading the script notes for them. When I got to the 4-5 episode break (when Cooper comes back from visiting Jacques's cabin to the delightful sounds of the Icelandic junket roaring at their big shindig and finds Audrey in his bed) I discovered that this scene was originally intended to be left extremely ambiguous.

Two main elements can be highlighted. Love founds fans' relation to the characters and the text. Interaction is based on this affect or emotion. Ambiguity, real or presumed, leads to what can be called a fictional expectation. This strong motive to interact within a text means that readers have to fill in the blanks of the text (Jenkins, "Transmedia"). They fill it with their desire for a character, a pairing, and a story. Another illustration of a fan's affective investment, Lynzee005 (see below) specifies that her fiction, "shows what I hope happened in between the scenes to which we were treated in the series."

Gabihime does not write fan fiction stories anymore. She has a web site where she posts her stories and links to other fan art, vids, or fiction, as well as a blog where she writes her original fiction, and various meta-narrative and/or meta-discursive productions, including a wiki, Tumblr account, LiveJournal page, and Twitter account.

A Narrative Ethnography of Fans' Production Content: Acculturation as Iteration and Transformation

We can briefly focus on another partial but significant example of narratives and discourses of a fan, in the perspective of a qualitative and iterative approach. We will then emphasise that narratives and discourses circulate, in other words that they are written and reformulated in and on different periods and platforms, but also that narratives use iteration and variation (Eco 1985).

Lynzee005 was born in 1985 in Canada. She joined FFNet in 2008 and last updated her profile in September 2015. She has a beta profile, which means that she reads and reviews other fans' work-in-progress. We can also clarify that publishing chapter-by-chapter and being re-read on FFNet appears to be a principle of writing and of writing circulation. So, writing reveals an iterative and participative practice.

Prior to this updating she wrote:

When I read, I look for an emotional connection with the characters and I hope to be genuinely invested in where the story is going. […] I tackle everything in chunks, concentrating on the big issues (consistent characterization, believable plot lines, etc.) before moving down to the smaller ones (spelling, punctuation). Once I finish reading a "chunk," I put it together in the whole and see if it works against the other "chunks," and if not, then I go back and start over.

She has written 17 stories for 7 different fandoms. She wrote five stories for Twin Peaks including a crossover with another fandom. She joined AO3 in December 2014 and completed her Twin Peaks trilogy. Her profile no longer underlines this serial process of chunking and dispersal, stressed by Jenkins ("Transmedia"), but only evokes how scenes can be stitched together. She now insists on the outcome of unity or continuity rather than on the process of serialization and fragmentation.

Stories about fans, their affective and interpretive relations to a story universe and their uses of reading and writing in and out a fandom, can illustrate a diversity of attachments and interests. We can briefly describe a range of attachments. Attachment to the character, described above, can move towards self-narration, to the exhibit of self both as a person and a character, to a self-distancing, an identity affect. Attachment also has interpretative and critical dimensions. Attached to a narrative universe, attached to storytelling, fans promote a writing normalisation and a narrative format (genre, pairing, tagging, memes, etc.). Every fan seems to iterate and alter this conduct. This appropriation renews self-imposed narrative codes. The use of writing by fans, based on attachments, is both iterative and transformative. The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), AO3's parent apparatus, asserts that derivative fans' work is transformative.

According to Umberto Eco's vision of a postmodern aesthetics of seriality, "Something is offered as original and different […] this something is repeating something else that we already know; and […] just because of it we like it" (167). There is an "enjoyment of variations" (174). "Seriality and repetition are not opposed to innovation" (175). Eco claims a dialectic between repetition and innovation, that is to say a: "dialectic between order and novelty -in other words, between scheme and innovation," where "the variation is no longer more appreciable than the scheme" (173). We acknowledge the "inseparable knot of scheme-variation" he is stressing (Eco 180), and we intend to put narrative fragmentation and narration dispersal forward to their reconstruction in a narrative universe as a whole, within the socio-narrative device. The knot illustrates the dialogical principle of exceeding dichotomies that will be discussed hereunder.

The plurality of uses and media calls for an accumulation of competencies, which engage users in the process of media acculturation. A "literate" or skilful user should be able to comprehend "the flow of content across multiple media platforms," the media industries' cooperation, "the migratory behavior of media audiences," and the "technological, industrial, cultural, and social changes" that the word convergence manages to describe (Jenkins, Convergence, 3).

Acculturation conveys an appropriation process, borrowed from "French" sociology of uses. Audiences become gradually intimate with the context of the evolving media environment. Scholars progressively understand how audiences are familiarizing themselves with competencies until they master literacies, where competencies are gathered. Users become sensitive, as well as mindful of time and space in literacy (Literacy), and of how writing can be spatialised (Graphic Literacy), of how the media space is technologized (Digital Literacy), and of what kind of structural interactions are emerging (Interactive Literacy).

Thus, the research question takes shape: "What kind of interactions can users establish with objects that are both technical and cultural?" Which also means: "In a study of effective uses, can the researcher find appropriation logics or tactics in the way users, specifically here readers and writers, improve their cultural practices?" As Davallon and Le Marec furthered it, uses have to be included in a process of cultural growth. Users can cross technical and cultural dimensions of an object in two main ways: They can compare the object with other cultural products they are used to, or they can grasp its novelty when engaging a cognitive and cultural capability of adaptation. Acknowledgment and adaption are part of the social process of cultural growth. In this sense, use can be an integrated activity or a novel one.

The model of cultural growth means that different and dispersed uses are progressively entering a meaning-making process. The question of meaning holds together, even unifies, multiple uses of reading and writing in a cultural practice of reading-writing. With this in mind, the core of competencies described above accurately displays the importance of critical skills (semiotic, informational, affective, symbolic, narrative, and discursive) nourishing a critical capability. Critically literate, users are able to question the place to which they have been attributed and the place they can gain, in an evolving (and even uncertain) media system. They can elaborate a critical reflection on their own practices of reading and writing.

Two Principles of a Socio-Narrative Device: Dialogism and Recognition

Uses of reading and writing online invite us to visualize and think through the convergence of a narrative object (technical, visual, and cultural), its medium and format(s), and the audiences involved. Here, multimodality has to be (re)considered. This is not only a question of different modes but a question of multiplicity in reading and writing uses, that leads us to the way a fan attachment creates his or her participation in the meaning of the text, and more generally leads us to the polyphonic form of writing questions. Dispersed uses converging into a cultural and social practice bring to light dialogical dimensions of writing, in the sense pointed out by Bakhtin in the early 1930s. Dialogism expands the notion of intertextuality to a social practice; enunciation appears polyphonic, and speakers are interacting. Every discourse is oriented to other discourses, interacting and responding to pre-existing discourses addressing the same object. Discourse is always others' discourse and shows a multiple and inter-relational subject.

A fan producing meta-narratives or meta-discourses on media and fan fiction is an inter-relational subject. By way of illustration, Slaymesoftly, displays her stories on AO3, on her own Web site, and on specialized archives. She does not justify fan fiction writing through warnings or disclaimers but defines broadly what fiction is and how she uses fiction in her stories. She analyses publishing, describes her universe and the alternative universes that she explores, and depicts how stories become a series. Slaymesoftly can be considered a literate fan, approaching writing with emotion or attachment and critical rationality, or more precisely, leading her attachment to writing with the distance that critical thought allows. She writes "Essays -about writing, vampires, and whatever else I decide to blather on about" on her Web site or on her LiveJournal, where she also joined a community. In the main, Slaymesoftly experiences multiple variations, in the sense of Eco, variations that oppose and tie a character to a canon, or a loving writing object to what could be newly told. Slaymesoftly also exposes the desire for recognition engaged by fans' uses of interaction. This process of mutual recognition, stated in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit highlights and questions fans' attachment, individual identity, and normative foundation. Mutual recognition could strengthen communitarianism or conformism in writing, but it can also offer a way for attachments to be shared, a way to initiate a narrative, and a social practice of dialog.

Dialogical dimensions of cultural practices of reading-writing (both in production and reception) design a fragmented narrative universe, unfinished but one, that can be comprehend in a socio-narrative device.

Graph 2: A socio-narrative Device

Figure 2 (Masoni Lacroix & Cailler)

Texts, authors, writers, and readers are not opposed but are part of a socio-narrative continuity. This device crosses three complementary and evolving dimensions of the narrative universe: techno-narrative, socio-narrative (playful, creative, and critical, in their interactivity), and narratological. Uses of literacy generating multimedia, cross-media, and transmedia productions also question the multimodal form of writing and invite us to an iterative, open, dialogical, and interrogative practice of multimodality. A (post)narratological activity opens up to an interrogative practice. This practice dialogs with others' discourse and narrative. The questioning complexity remains open. In a proximate meaning, a transmedia narrative is fragmented, open to incompletion, but enrolled in a continuum (Jenkins, "Transmedia").

Looking back, through the overtaken dichotomy between production and reception, a social and narrative process has been described that leads to the reshaping of multiple uses of literacies into cultural practices, and further on, to a cultural and social practice of reading-writing blended into interactivity. Competencies, dictated uses of reading and writing and alterna(rra)tive upsurges (as fans' production content) can be questioned. What can be questioned is either the fragmentation, the incompletion, and the continuity of narratives, that Jenkins no longer brings into conflict ("Transmedia"). This is also what the social and narrative form of dialogism teaches us: dichotomies, as a tool or a structure of thought, appear suspect or no longer significant. There is continuity in the acculturation process, from acknowledgement to recognition, continuity in the multiple uses of interacting, continuity from narrative to discourse, continuity from emotion to writing critically, a transformative continuity in iteration and variation, a polyphonic continuity.

References

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Masoni Lacroix, Céline. "Mise en Récit des Fictions de Fans de Séries Télévisées: Variations, Granularité et Réflexivité." Tension narrative et Storytelling. Eds. Nicolas Pélissier and Marc Marti. Paris: L'harmattan, 2014. 83-100.

———. "Narrativités 2.0: Fragmentation-Organisation d'un Métadiscours." Cahiers de Narratologie 32 (2017). <http://journals.openedition.org/narratologie/7781>.

———, and Bruno Cailler. "Fans versus Universitaires, l'Hypothèse Dialogique de la Transmédialité au sein d'un Dispositif Socio-narratif." Revue française des sciences de l'information et de la communication 7 (2015). <http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/1662>.

———, and Bruno Cailler. "Principes Co-extensifs de la Fiction Sérielle, de la Distribution Diffusée à une Pratique Interprétative Dialogique: une Nouvelle Donne Socio-narrative?" Cahiers de Narratologie 31 (2016). <http://narratologie.revues.org/7576>. 

TV Show Fandoms Explored

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon).

Sherlock (Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat).

Twin Peaks (Mark Frost & David Lynch).

Wallander (from Henning Mankell to Philip Martin).


Keywords


seriality transmediality fans writing practice



Copyright (c) 2018 Céline Masoni Lacroix

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