Sunday, May 6, 2012

Research Questions and Relevant Literature

This may be a little boring for those of you who are only looking for "No sh!t, there I was" stories or pictures of pirates. However, since you made it past the first sentence, I'm assuming you might have an more scholarly interest in this project. So here's a short description of the project, including some of the main research questions and a very short reference to some of the relevant literature. I won't make you read my whole lit review (even if it were done, which is it soooo not). Here goes...

Studies of social deviance have pointed to retreatism into subculture as an adaptation which allows for more authentic identity expression. This study will examine how the renaissance festival setting offers a context for non-normative identity performance within a carnivalesque setting in which the construction of shared fantasy is the basis of social processes. It will also ask how social strain combined with the influence of popular media may influence participants toward retreatism in the subculture as a social setting in which they can find meaningful interaction with others who share their social paradigm and romanticized version of history.

This study seeks to answer several questions relevant to existing scholarly literature in the fields of sociology, performance studies, and fandom and leisure.

How is the shared fantasy of romanticized history constructed at renaissance festivals and within the “rennie” subculture? Fine (1983) addresses the social construction of shared fantasy in role playing games. The similar element of an idealized historical context exists in both settings, as well as many of the popular cultural influences which may inform participants’ performances of self and shared meanings of interactions. Kirol-Evans, in her book Renaissance Festivals: Merrying the Past and Present (2009), considers the intrasticive nature of this social setting in which the 21st and 16th centuries exist simultaneously, giving a rich description of both setting and performance with particular attention to the variation in levels of immersion. Themes of play (Huizinga 1950) and social construction (Berger & Luckmann 1966) also inform this study.

How do participants become interested and involved in this subculture? Both Korol-Evans and Cramer (2010) explore the medieval re-creationist subculture, describing the initiatory process of becoming involved and what factors influence that process. Experts in social deviance, Becker (1963) and Agnew (1997) both offer insight into deviant subculture involvement.

How is identity performed in the renaissance festival setting? What influences the construction of these presumably alternate or non-normative identity performances, and how do they differ from identities performed outside the festival or the subculture? Goffman’s classic, The Performance of Self in Everyday Life (1959), is the canonical basis for studies of social and identity performance, and provides a theoretical basis for exploring the variation in front stage and backstage identities and interactions. However, as appears to be the nature of this subculture, the fantasy element in identity performance (Fine 1983, Korol-Evans 2009, Cramer 2010) leaves many questions concerning how these fantasies are constructed, how they manifest at the renaissance festival, and even why this social environment in particular is so conducive to their expression.

And to what degree participation in renaissance festivals and affiliation with this subculture affect participants’ lives outside of the renaissance faire? Korol-Evans and Cramer discuss the juxtaposition of “real life” to the immersive world of the festival setting. And deviance theorists such as Agnew and Becker provide a framework for examining social strain and outsiderdom, respectively. However, questions remain unanswered as to how participation in the renaissance festival as a social setting affects participants’ lives outside the faire and during the off season. 

Agnew, Robert. 1997. “The Nature and Determinants of Strain: Another Look at Durkheim and Merton.” Pp. 27-51 in The Future of Anomie Theory, edited by N. Passas and R. Agnew. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1968. Rabelais and His World. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Becker, Howard S. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. The Free Press, New York.
Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Anchor Books.
Cramer, Michael. 2010. Medieval Fantasy as Performance. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Fine, Gary A. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books.
Huizinga, Johan. 1950. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Korol-Evans, Kimberly T. 2009. Renaissance Festivals: Merrying the Past and PresentJefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. 

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