The TVTropes.org wiki is rarely cited in research as a space for learning or interaction in the library database. In fact, I have only so far found one source that references TVTropes explicitly. That source is “A Submersion in Subversion” by David Henrion (2012). This source, a dissertation/thesis from the University of Wyoming, does not focus on relevant issues taking place in digital literacy practices on TVTropes, but on subversion of form in fiction. The helpful idea that this thesis brings is simply that “The real genius of TV Tropes lies in the connections it creates between texts through its mapping of tropes” (8). Henrion uses TVTropes only as an entrance to a conversation about form and the Internet or games as viable modes of creation and intertextual study, not on digital literacy practice. While his article was interesting, I did not find it exceptionally helpful because of the literary focus. My project is on TVTropes more as an affinity space, a community of practice, and a wiki as a model for creation and learning. That being the case, I am focusing my literature review on sources that focus entirely on these important concepts: “affinity space” (Gee (2005), Elcessor & Duncan (2011), Black and Steinkuehler (2009), Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico’s (2012), “community of practice” (Gee (1999), Gee (2005), Wenger (1998), “sponsorship” (Webb-Sunderhaus (2007), Bowen (2011)), and the idea of a “constellation of literacy activities” (Gee (2005), Black & SteinKuehler (2009)).
First, I would like to discuss the idea of affinity spaces within the context of Gee (2005) and Elcessor and Duncan (2011). Black and Steinjuehler (2009) also discuss affinity spaces to some extent. The idea of an affinity space is, as Gee puts it “a particularly important contemporary social configuration with implications for the future of schools and schooling” (214). He defines the affinity space in eleven criteria on 225-228 of the article “Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces.” These criteria are not entirely useful to the wiki I am looking at, but the important aspects he notes are the idea of a common endeavor, the idea of shared space among newbies and masters, transformation of grammar, and the different forms and routes to participation in the community or affinity space. Gee goes into detail on the eleven criteria, but the majority of his discussion is further than this review will go. I am interested in his concept of affinity spaces more in the context of the Black and Elcessor & Duncan uses. Black and Steinkuehler add some clarity and expansion on Gee’s general idea of the affinity space, noting that affinity spaces “cohere around a common affinity for a certain topic, passion, or endeavor, rather than, say, those features that more traditionally define a given community” (273). Elcessor and Duncan (2011) add to this definition and discussion with the helpful integration of fan community and “star” or “celebrity-based” fandoms and the individual. Within this addition, Elcessor and Duncan argue that affinity spaces are problematized by the use of fan-spaces as affinity spaces, because the Gee definition presupposes group cohesion. Elcessor and Duncan’s article is worth noting, but my research project is centered on the community of practice (and focus here on “community”) that is TVTropes. I find the affinity space discussion in Black and SteinKuehler (2009) or Gee (2005) more helpful in this project for their focus on broader communities. Finally, the community of TVTropes uses what J. C. Lammers, J. S. Curwood & A. M. Magnifico, in “Toward an affinity space methodology: Considerations for literacy research” (2012) call informal learning spaces (again citing Gee (2004)) that are “these physical, virtual or blended spaces [that] are often spread across many sites, such as face-to-face meetings, message boards, blogs and web pages” (45). Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico’s article centers on affinity spaces in Hunger Games, Neopet, and The Sims to illustrate the need for an affinity space methodological framework they call “affinity space ethnography.” All online affinity space research owes Gee a debt of gratitude, and this review falls short of citing the depth with which affinity space needs to be researched for the TVTropes site. I will turn now to work on the concept of a community of practice.
Again, within the idea of a community of practice, Gee is crucial in discussing online activities. Gee (1999), for example, illustrates the community of practice framework as problematic: “the key problem with notions like “community of practice”, and related ones like “communities of learners”, is that they make it look like we are attempting to label a group of people” (214). Gee changed the notion to “affinity space,” but the concept of the community of practice, to me, seems like a valid one to think about in terms of the TVTropes.org site and other wikis. Wenger (whom Gee cites in creating the concept of the CoP framework) argues that communities of practice serve as motivational centers, and that certainly seems to be the case on TVTropes. The two things that tropers apparently find motivating are their own fan leanings and than the community requests for additions, deletions, and expansions to the project. (The project of course being the compilation of the broadest wiki for fictional tropes in existence.) Wenger states:
A community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:
What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members
How it functions – mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity
What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artifacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (Co-i-l.com)
These criteria are helpful in thinking about the TVTropes site because they question the role of the community and its influence on the individual. My research project is focusing on the role of newbies and the sponsorship it takes to enter the community, so this concept is quite helpful. The joint enterprise is both motivating and renegotiated constantly through discussion forums and changes to individual wiki pages. Further, the site does not have much in the way of detractors or “trolls” because of its self-policing habits—a concept I have not yet seen in affinity spaces by Gee. Self-policing is joined by sponsorship and sponsorship activities, which I will now discuss in terms of Bowen (2011) and Webb-Sunderhaus (2007).
Sponsorship, according to Bowen (2011), is “agents who provide beneficiaries with the resources to develop literacy in exchange for some kind of economic gain” (594) and the interaction of them and their sponsored participants. This notion is from Deborah Brandt, who coined the term in 2001. Bowen’s discussion of the sponsorship of Beverly, an elderly woman, is reminiscent of ho I felt as a newbie on TVTropes. I had sponsors (this class, a mod on the site, and my little brother) to help me enter the community of TVTropes. Moving forward then, Webb-Sunderhaus’ article “A Family Affair: Competing Sponsors of Literacy in Appalachian Students’ Lives” (2007) further explains this term (actually in much more detail and earlier, though in distinct ways from Bowen). Webb-Sunderhaus explains Brandt’s term as people who “are conduits for the larger economic forces of literacy” (1601). (In this case, “economy” may be seen as a synonym for greater more fruitful additions to the wiki.) As she states, the sponsors (mods/”masters”) both withhold and enable newbies in various ways. The concept of sponsorship is important to the TVTropes wiki because without that self-police action, the site could not function. There is a definite sense of order created by the experienced participant that sponsors newcomers and the general reader to “fall in line” with traditions of participation. The participation comes from a multiplicity of digital literacies called commonly “a constellation of literacy activities.”
Black and Steinkuehler (2009) call the “constellation of literacy activities” a set of required skills that come together to make playing an MMORPG possible. In the case of TVTropes, then, I am looking at this concept as the need to understand multiple levels of online interaction, html coding, and traditional text-based literacy (which includes reading/writing/analysis). Black and Steinkuehler use “in-game text based interaction, in-game literacy practices (largely formed out of those interactions), and out-of-game, online world of fandom” as required constellations for gaming online (277). I agree with the principles in these premises, because on TVTropes participants need in-wiki text based literacy (the jargon, spoiler avoidance, and general affinity language), in-wiki literacy practice (including editing practices, code of conduct, and formality), and out-of-wiki literacy/literary practices (don’t add tropes you know nothing about).
Finish with Wiki’s overall—(Knobel and Lankshear)
Black, R.W. (2005). Access and affiliation: The literacy and composition practices of English-language learners in an online fanfiction community. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49 (2), 118-128.
Black, R. W., & Steinkuehler, C. (2009). Literacy in virtual worlds. In L. Christenbury, R. Bomer, & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent literacy research (pp. 271– 286). New York: Guilford.
Bowen, L.M. (2011). Resisting age bias in digital literacy research. College Composition & Communication, 62 (4), 586-607.
Ellcessor, E, & Duncan, S.C. (2011). Forming The Guild: Star power and rethinking projective identity in affinity spaces. International Journal of Game-based Learning, 1 (2), 82-95.
Gee, J. P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces. Beyond communities of practice language power and social context, 214-232
____. (1999). The New Literacy Studies and the ‘Social Turn.’ The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York, Norton: 2009. 1293-1310.
Henrion, D. (2012). Thesis: A submersion in subversion. (Order No. 1510284, University of Wyoming). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 80. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.consortiumlibrary.org/docview/1016183326?accountid=14473. (1016183326).Jayne C. Lammers, Jen Scott Curwood, & Alecia Marie Magnifico. (2012). Toward an affinity space methodology: Considerations for literacy research. English Teaching, 11(2), 44.
Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2009). Wikis, digital literacies, and professional growth International Reading Association.
Thorne, S. L. (2009). ‘Community’, semiotic flows, and mediated contribution to activity. Language Teaching, 42(1), 81-94. doi:10.1017/S0261444808005429
Webb-Sunderhaus, Sara. (2009). “A Family Affair: Competing Sponsors of Literacy in Appalachian Students’ Lives. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York, Norton: 2009. 1600-1616.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Web accessed 15 November 2013 < http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml>.