Online Fandom: exploring community and identity formation within football fan forums

Nuttall, Daniel (2018) Online Fandom: exploring community and identity formation within football fan forums. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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There have been recent calls for further academic attention to the online activities of football fans. Despite the growing number of studies that have utilised online interactions between fans as a source of data, none have focused on computer mediated communication (CMC) between fans as the actual subject of enquiry in itself.
The aim of the thesis is to analyse the role that the internet plays in modern football fandom and, more specifically, the way that fans communicate with one another on the internet. Allied to this, it aims to assess whether or not genuine communities of fans are established online as a result of the interaction between fans via CMC. In doing so, the thesis proposes a distinct conceptualisation of an online community in order for the term to retain conceptual and analytical value and, thus, avoid the imprecise and rhetoric use of the broader term of community within the academic study of football fans.
The underpinning research is based on a prolonged ethnographic study of an online community who frequented two internet message boards for the fans of Burnley Football Club. Each is home to several thousand members and discussion posts. This study encompassed a period of participant observation, between 2011 and 2017, and eight semi-structured interviews with significant community members who were identified during the observation process. The qualitative data gleaned from this research was then coded, line-by-line, to distil key and recurring themes.
The findings of the research suggest that CMC is facilitating the maintenance and recreation of traditional fan identities, practises and communities in modern football. The community in question, brought together by a shared interest and identity, is characterised by meaningful relationships, reciprocal behaviours, distinct norms and values, the formation of insider/outsider statuses, and identity to an online space and fellow community members. Whilst those members interact in a variety of ways, CMC has continued to be central to their engagements with one another following the formation of the community.

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