Hello colleagues, professors, scholars, and other readers. I am a student currently enrolled in Kean University’s Master of Arts in English and Writing Studies program. This blog is the place where I’ll be documenting my MA thesis journey, which I anticipate to be equal parts grueling and invigorating, like hot yoga or some kind of therapeutic coal mining activity. Grab your form-fitting pants and doomed canaries; it’s going to be a long year!
My thesis is dedicated to the study of closed species communities on the art/social networking site DeviantArt. I will be examining these unique, and previously unstudied, online communities with a focus on participatory culture and civic imagination. What qualities do these groups share with other, similar online participatory cultures such as fan, gaming, and writing communities? How do they differ? What do these similarities and differences mean to the participants, especially those who are students? How do closed species communities handle economic and conflict resolution issues, and can these practices transfer to participants’ real-life activities? What positive effects might such a transfer of practices bring to society as a whole? Additionally, I really want to look at the storytelling practices of closed species communities, and how they fit within the broader contexts of networked narratives and electronic literature. The latter topic is a relatively new addition to my research roster, but I feel like it’s just as important as the first two. It may even be more important in terms of introducing academia to closed species communities. I’m not sure where exactly it will fit in, or whether I will have to adjust the scope of my thesis during the year. Who knows? Maybe I’ll narrow my thesis’s focus to just one of these topics, or decide to replace one with another, or add more topics. I need to see how things go with primary and secondary research. At the end of the previous school year, I said I wanted to take a grounded theory-inspired approach to my research process, so I guess I’ll see where the data takes me!
I guess I should probably say why I want to study closed species communities on DeviantArt, and my goals for doing so. I have been a member of several closed species communities for years, and I am continually impressed by the creativity and humanity I find in them. A real-life friend of mine introduced me to the concept of closed species, and not too long after, I fell in love with CCCats (Crowned Clown Cats), a closed species by a DeviantArt user called WellHidden. CCCats are intelligent, magical parasites that inhabit animal (and sometimes human) corpses and change them into a new cat-like creature. Yeah, it sounds morbid, but I’ve always had an interest in both parasitology and fantasy-related genres, so this species and their lore world felt tailor-made for me.
Art and CCCat species by WellHidden on DeviantArt
I obtained a pre-made CCCat character design by purchasing it with real-life money, transferred directly to the species creator/artist via PayPal. That was about 2.5 years ago, and I have never once regretted it. I get more use and joy out of my CCCat than countless real-life items I’ve shelled-out money for. His name is Alo, and he has become one of my most beloved characters. I draw him and write about him on a regular basis, especially when I don’t have the inspiration or energy to do any other kind of writing or art. I also commission art of him from other members of the community, as well as sharing my art and writing within the community. I have even converted some of my art, such as the image below, into free-to-use bases that other community members can use to create art of their own characters.
CCCat species and original design by WellHidden on DeviantArt
Art by me
Based on my own positive experiences with closed species communities, and inspired by other scholars’ work on fanfiction, social networking, and gaming communities, I decided that I wanted to share closed species with the academic world. I want to make scholars aware of the amazing creative work, social interactions, and consumption practices happening around closed species. I want to make educators, especially those who teach writing or visual arts, aware of the ways participation in closed species communities can supplement the classroom learning of high school and college students. In short, I want to validate these fictional creatures and the communities that develop around them to the academic world. They’re something special, and I want others in my field to see that. Ideally, I would like to present my work on closed species at conferences and publish articles about them in scholarly journals. It is for those reasons that I am making my thesis a traditional academic paper.
I have already begun to collect artifacts and conduct secondary research for my thesis. The artifacts are screenshots demonstrating things I have experienced in closed species communities that I feel are significant to the topics I mentioned earlier. The secondary research has consisted of reading books that discuss other online communities and digital storytelling practices. I have also begun to take notes on these readings and do freewriting about how they relate to the closed species communities I am examining.
Moving forward these coming weeks, I would like to get at least another quarter of the way through Narrative as Virtual Reality by Marie-Laure Ryan. This book is really challenging for me to read, but it has been super valuable so far in terms of understanding how closed species communities relate to things like hypertext storytelling. I would also like to prepare to conduct an interview with one of my primary sources, so I guess that means talking to my advisor about IRB and all that stuff.
Thanks for tuning in to my thesis blog! I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with any of you out there in Internet Land who have an interest in it!