Swarming SDCC

Swarming SDCC examines producer–intermediary–audience relations in the entertainment industry through the lens of the San Diego Comic-Con. It’s no secret that the cultural industries are radically changing: on the one hand, the participatory cultures enabled by networked digital communication have been seen as democratizing media, enabling creators and audiences to find one another outside of established industry gatekeepers; on the other hand, ever-greater levels of ownership concentration in the media industries reactivate concerns about oligopoly and market power. Comic-Con, which has been described by one analyst as a “laboratory in which the global future of media is unspooling in real time,” affords an ideal vantage point for exploring the effects of these transformations. Key research questions include:

  • How does a large-scale event like the San Diego Comic-Con interpellate diverse agents and actors? Who gets to be included in its conception of popular media?
  • How does the allocation of space, programming, attention and other infrastructural resources structure industry–audience relations?
  • How do individuals enrolled in these industry–intermediary–audience assemblages experience and navigate the space of a major con?

Our project adopts an ethnographic approach, seeking a rich understanding of how these processes are register in and are worked out through the lived experience of attending Comic-Con. More specifically, we are planning a “collaborative event ethnography” or “swarm ethnography” of the San Diego Comic-Con. Our team of seven leading scholars of industry–fan relations will bring a group of outstanding student researchers to Comic-Con for collaborative fieldwork that seeks to understand the ways that media companies, cultural intermediaries, and ordinary audience members are articulated together through a con event.

Research Team

Benjamin Woo, Carleton University (PI)
Felan Parker, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto
Anne Gilbert, University of Georgia
Erin Hanna, University of Oregon
Shawna Kidman, UC San Diego
Melanie E.S. Kohnen, Lewis and Clark College
Suzanne Scott, University of Texas at Austin
Matthew J. Smith, Radford University


We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.