Welcome and Introduction

Thanks for visiting Geek Studies. I’m Jason Tocci, a grad student in Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. For my doctoral dissertation, I’m doing a study on “geek” culture—the media use, social identity, and market formations of those who self-identify or are typically considered by others as geeks, nerds, dorks, and so on.

Why study geeks? Well, I started grad school to study comic art and visual communication, then moved into studying video games. I started noticing a common thread in some of my projects on comics and games, and I decided to start thinking about it in terms of geek culture when a friend gave me a t-shirt that said “Han Shot First.” The shirt features a sci-fi movie reference, is produced by an online comic artist whose strip is about video games, and is being distributed through an online store owned by a company related to open source technology. Somehow, all of this is marketed and claimed by fans themselves under a word that some consider an insult and others consider a badge of pride. What it means to be a geek is changing slowly, and these changes reveal interesting dynamics in the way communities work and media are used.

Ever since I started researching this as a course paper over a year ago, most of my interviewees have expressed interest in being kept up to date with how the project is going. It can be hard to coordinate that sort of thing via email, as I learned, though a couple of my interviewees suggested that I start up a web page to help keep people updated on my progress and solicit feedback. Considering that my subject group is known for its tech savvy and user participation, I’m hoping this site will help to produce a more fully considered study of geek culture. Thanks go to my thoughtful (anonymous) interviewees for setting me in this direction.

If I were to update here only to post new revisions and to self-promote, I suspect it would get boring pretty fast for all parties involved. In addition to occasionally soliciting feedback on papers, then, my plan is to post the links here that I’d otherwise just be emailing myself for later reference. I’ll also write up observations and ideas that may be the seeds for chapters or papers related to games, comics, technology, and so on.

Please feel free to comment, lurk, or email directly to jtocci [at] asc.upenn.edu.

2 thoughts on “Welcome and Introduction

  1. Rather than reply to the e-mail you sent us interview subjects, I would like to comment on the “geek paper SUMMER PROJECT” attachment here with the hope that we can get some discourse up in this mutha or some such.

    Not to detract from the value and insight that the paper most certainly exhibits, I think far too much of it focuses on the potentially cliche and common aspect of “geeks are marginalized.” No really? I mean, I understand that in many respects one is almost forced by the standards of academia to work to add to the inertia generated by so many previous works (which naturally form the list of works to cite) that have addressed that aspect. However, I really think you need to balance that more with new directions. Rather than looking so hard at the cliche shared experience of discrimination and cause and effect therein, I think you could spend more time on the conscious and unconscious motivations, perceptions of value inside and outside the geek community. Really I think it’s more important to have a deeper understanding of why geeks feel what they are doing is valuable as a individual and collective experience, and beyond that the potential real, objective value emerging in the world where it concerns the application of geek skillsets, not simply in the IT industry stereotype, but as I said at the end of my interview, applications that are completely new such as operators of unmanned military vehicles in the manner of video games etc.

    Ultimately, you’ve talked a lot about geek identity and how other people dislike them, but I don’t think you’ve sufficiently addressed (I can see you have tried) why geeks like themselves or why other non-geeks might like them. Instead you’ve grazed the issue, focusing more one what brings them together than what makes them do what they do, but then perhaps that’s what happens when hit the demarcation between communications and psychology. I’ve always had a very wholistic view of the humanities and hate artificial limitations (needless to say I don’t work very well within traditional academic systems), so perhaps my criticism is overmuch and asks for things that are ultimately not feasible for the functional necessity of your project.

    ANYWAY… It’s a good start.

  2. Thanks so much for being my first commenter, and for offering such a thoughtful response (before the site design’s even finished, no less)!

    To tell the truth, I think you hit the nail on the head. Part of why I sat on that paper so long before sending it out to people who requested a copy was that I knew I’d be revising it, and I hoped the revision would turn out better. In addition, the paper I sent out was written with the plan of turning it into the first chapter of a dissertation. This meant I had to spend some time covering the obvious material (which still remains unsaid in academic writing, I think) before I got into most of the complexity of the topic. Actually, my first geek paper (written before conducting interviews with convention attendees) covered a lot more ground, which is what prompted a couple of my professors to tell me to do this for my dissertation rather than try to compress it all into one paper.

    You’re right, too, that one of my stumbling blocks so far has been balancing between a psychological perspective and anthropological/sociological perspectives. Psychological research has been deployed in fan studies mostly to pathologize, unfortunately, though Matt Hills’s book Fan Cultures offers a different and interesting take on the psychological mechanism behind fandom. Perhaps I’ve been too timid to delve into the inner workings of others so far, which is something to think about as I proceed.

    So: thanks again. I welcome you folks to be brutal with me here. (Hopefully in a friendly way—one can be friendly and brutal, right?)

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