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, University of California San Diego
  • Melanie E.S. Kohnen, Lewis and Clark College
  • Suzanne Scott, University of Texas at Austin
  • Matthew J. Smith, Radford University

Project Publications

Parker, Felan. “InsightOut: Why I Took Six Book & Media Students to San Diego Comic-Con.” University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto (blog), 30 Oct., 2023, https://stmikes.utoronto.ca/news/insightout-why-i-took-six-book-media-students-to-san-diego-comic-con.

Kohnen, Melanie E.S., Felan Parker, and Benjamin Woo. 2023. “From Comic-Con to Amazon: Fan Conventions and Digital Platforms.” New Media & Societyhttps://doi.org/10.1177/14614448231165289.

Hanna, Erin. “The Limits of Comic-Con’s Exclusivity.” The Year Without a Comic-Con, Transformative Works and Cultures no. 38, 2022, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2022.2081.

Kohnen, Melanie E.S. “The Experience Economy During Covid-19: Virtual Activations at Comic-Con@Home.” The Year Without a Comic-Con, Transformative Works and Cultures no. 38, 2022, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2022.2325.

Woo, Benjamin, Erin Hanna, and Melanie Kohnen, with Anne Gilbert, Felan Parker, Suzanne Scott, and Matthew J. Smith. “Comic-Con@Home: Virtual Comics Event Declared a Failure by Industry Critics, but Fans Loved It.” The Conversation, 8 Sept., 2020, https://theconversation.com/comic-con-home-virtual-comics-event-declared-a-failure-by-industry-critics-but-fans-loved-it-143801.


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