RMeS Workshop: Renegade audiences? Understanding and exploring the practices of toxic fans, vigilantes, trolls, and provocateurs

Workshop organized by Dr Simone Driessen (EUR), within the context of the RMeS PhD Workshop Grant

When? 13 November 2020 | 10.00 – 13.00
Where? ZOOM
Coordinator? Dr Simone Driessen (EUR)
Open to? PhD’s and research master students, max 20 participants

THE WORKSHOP IS FULLY BOOKEDplease send an e-mail to rmes-fgw@uva.nl with your name, university and research school. We will put you on our waiting list.

When the all-female reboot of eighties cult-classic Ghostbusters was released in 2016 the film was met with critique from a small group of dissatisfied fans. What followed were misogynistic comments from these (former?) fans in response to an all-female cast. A small group of trolls harassed one of the involved actresses, Leslie Jones, to such an extent that she decided to close her Twitter-account. Although it is well accepted in today’s world that consumers (audiences) can participate by leaving reviews, comments, critiques or appraisals, not much attention has been paid, in media studies, to feelings of dislike or displeasure and the audiences who are affected by these.

This workshop aims explores what happens if audiences’ affective investments are challenged. If we, in media studies, consider audiences as participatory communities, comparable to micro communities, this allows for a point of departure to discuss the more challenging or ‘anti-fannish’ behaviour of audiences. What if nostalgic feelings for a pop culture text turn sour (e.g. Ghostbusters), or calling out of a particular person has severe consequences like doxing (e.g. GamerGate)? Examining such reactions and practices offers a fundamental framework for understanding polarization in today’s society.

In this interdisciplinary workshop, students are invited to discuss and scrutinize “renegade audiences”. In her introduction, Dr. Simone Driessen (workshop organizer) will explore this concept through the lenses of Fan- and Surveillance Studies. Additionally, “renegade audiences” are further explored with two established scholars in these fields: professor Matt Hills (Fan Studies), and associate professor Daniel Trottier (Surveillance Studies).

In his session, Prof. dr. Matt Hills addresses how changing doxas might play a role in the toxic responses and behavior of fans. He will discuss this idea by looking at cases in various fandoms, where fans have responded defensively in relation to shifts towards inclusivity and diversity in a cultural text. Think about toxic responses to the recent appointment of a female doctor in long-running BBC-series Dr Who, or reactions to the inclusion of a female lead in the Star Wars sequels. This helps to further discuss with participants the notion of “renegade audiences”.

Additionally, Dr. Daniel Trottier invites participants to consider the ethical dimensions of contemporary audience research, including implications for those carrying out research on these practices. In this session, the participants will work on conceptual and societal concerns regarding researching renegade audiences, and how to tackle the practical/ applied issues this brings in terms of data collection and publishing findings.

After the workshop, students who participate for the 1ECTS will apply their knowledge to a particular case. Students get a 1,5h-window to complete a brief investigation on a “renegade audience”, further explicated in a concise group presentation. Doing so, students have a chance to demonstrate their

knowledge of the (preparatory) literature, sessions, and the discussed ethical guidelines.

Programme of workshop (via Zoom):

10.00 – 10.10 – Welcome & Introduction by Dr. Simone Driessen (organizer)

10.10 – 10.40 – Talk & Q&A 1: Prof. Dr. Matt Hills

10.50 – 11.20 – Talk & Q&A 2: Dr. Daniel Trottier

11.20 – 11.25 – Introduction to the Assignment & break-out rooms

11.30 – 12.15 – Participating RMeS students (for the 1 ECTS) have this window to complete the group assignment [see details assignment]

12.15 – 12.45 – Assignment Presentations

12.45 – 13.00 – Closing remarks & discussion

Speaker bios:

Prof. Matt Hills, University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom

In july 2016, professor joined the University of Huddersfield as Professor of Media and Journalism. With Professor Cornel Sandvoss he is co-director of the Centre for Participatory Culture, and supervises a number of PhD students in this area, focusing significantly on media fandom and fan studies. Prior to joining Huddersfield he was Professor of Film and TV Studies at Aberystwyth University. Before that, professor Hills worked for more than a decade at Cardiff University. He has written six sole-authored research monographs, starting with Fan Cultures in 2002 and coming up to date with Doctor Who: The Unfolding Event in 2015, as well as publishing more than a hundred book chapters and journal articles in the areas of media fandom, cult film/TV, and audiences in the digital era.

Dr. Daniel Trottier, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Dr. Trottier is an Associate Professor at the Department of Media and Communication of Erasmus University Rotterdam. His current research considers the use of digital media for the purposes of scrutiny, denunciation and shaming. Daniel is the PI of a five-year NWO-funded project on this topic, entitled “Digital Vigilantism: Mapping the terrain and assessing societal impacts”. Prior to joining Erasmus University, Dr. Trottier was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Westminster, Uppsala University Sweden, and the University of Alberta, Canada. He completed a PhD in Sociology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. Dr. Trottier has authored several articles in peer-reviewed journals on this and other topics, as well as books like Social Media as Surveillance with Ashgate in 2012, Identity Problems in the Facebook Era with Routledge in 2013, and Social Media, Politics and the State (co-edited with Christian Fuchs) with Routledge in 2014.

Dr. Simone Driessen, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Dr. Driessen is a lecturer and researcher in the Media and Communication Department of Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 2017, she obtained her PhD, on the affordances of mainstream popular music in the everyday life of ageing audiences, from the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC). Her PhD was nominated for the Boekman Foundation Thesis Prize in 2018, and one of her papers won the ‘Top Paper of the Popular Culture Division’ in 2018, at the highly competitive International Communication Association conference. Dr. Driessen (co-)authored several articles which appeared in peer-reviewed journals, a.o. in Popular Music & Society, Participations and Journal of Fandom Studies, and contributed to various edited collections on the topic(s) of popular music and (ageing) fandom, popular culture and vigilant audiences.


This assignment helps to better understand the phenomenon of “renegade audiences” and their reactions and practices, by researching a particular controversy such an audience was involved in:

1) First, after reading the preparatory readings for the workshop, we ask you to individually work on the following 2 elements:

A) Provide a definition of how you understand the concept of “renegade audiences”. Send this in prior to the workshop (latest, Wednesday November 11 by noon, send to: driessen@eshcc.eur.nl).

B) Select an event/ fandom that according to you showed a renegade audience response to an event (from a toxic, vigilant, provoking etc. perspective). Be prepared to share – during the workshop – what happened and make sure to have a small dossier of evidence to discuss (+/- 5-8 articles, or +/- 15-20 comments from this renegade audience).

2) On the day of the workshop, you’ll work in a group with a few peers on the following:

A) As a group, pick one of the events/fandoms you’ve prepared (you’re also free to compare your cases). Together, compare and complete your short investigation to uncover what happened and how the audiences responded.

B) To showcase your investigation, you’ll create a 4 slide- 4-minute presentation to present your findings to the group. The 4 slides illustrate the following: your case (1 slide), 2) how your case is ‘renegade’ (theory & evidence! Max. 2 slides), 3) your conclusion (1 slide). NB: your findings need to be discussed with the help of the assigned readings. Each presentation is followed by a brief Q&A that will touch upon your ethical handling of the material.

Your presentations will be evaluated on the following aspects:
1) Your understanding (definition) of renegade audiences (2 points);
2) The incorporation of the assigned readings and workshop content (5 points);
3) The aptness (creativity, originality) of the selected case study (1 point);
4) The coherence of your presentation style (2 points).


1) Driessen, S. (2020). For the greater good: vigilantism in online pop culture fandoms. In D. Trottier (ed), Vigilant Audiences: Justice Seeking through Global Digital Media. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers.

2) Hills, M. (2018). An extended Foreword: From fan doxa to toxic fan practices? Participations; Journal of audience and reception studies15(1), 105-126.

3) Trottier, D. (2017). Digital Vigilantism as Weaponisation of Visibility. Philosophy and Technology, 30(1), 55–72. doi:10.1007/s13347-016-0216-4