9.4 Fandom vs. Fanship

Social psychologists who study fan groups make a distinction between two related concepts: fandom and fanship. Fandom refers to a person’s identification with others who share a similar interest to them. In contrast, fanship refers to the extent to which a person identifies with an interest in something. To illustrate, we can imagine people who are high or low on these two traits. A sport fan high on fanship but low on fandom may enjoy watching the games, but find little interest in doing so with others. In contrast, a sport fan low on fanship but high on fandom may watch the games with their friends, not for love of the game itself but for love of being a part of the fan community. Far from being a trivial distinction, psychologists have suggested that a person’s fandom and fanship differently predict their attitudes, feelings, and behaviours in different contexts.

To illustrate this distinction, the figure below[tagcite tags=AC12] shows how furries responded to three different questions, two of which are presently relevant: how strongly do you identify (on a 1-7 scale) as a furry (fanship), and with other furries (fandom)?

The blue bars, which represent fanship, show that most furries strongly identify with their fan interest (with an interest in furry content). In contrast, while many furries identified strongly with other furries in the fandom (fanship), there was not as significant a peak at the right side of the figure, suggesting that while many furries feel a strong sense of fandom, not all furries feel such strong identification with the fandom as a whole.

9-4 fandom and fanship
That said, studies comparing furries to members of other fandoms show that while furries may be just as big a fan of their fandom’s content as other fans (e.g., convention-going anime fans, top figure), fandom was far more important for furries than for other fandoms (bottom figure), suggesting that the sense of community provided by the furry fandom is a bigger part of furries’ identity than it is for other fans (a figure which is consistent with other data showing that belongingness is an important motivator of participation in the furry fandom.[tagcite tags=2.10]
9-4 identity with fan interest by group
9-4 indentity with fan group by group

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