Heats, knots and hierarchies: Speculative genders in omegaverse fanfiction

Abstract (in English): 

As a digital genre, fanfiction enables the recontextualisation and transformation of characters, plots, and stories from popular culture. The dynamic combination of a community-driven writing practice with well-developed platforms that support an extensive and generative labelling system, supports the development of an ever-expanding network of tropes, which are continually being reinvented and reimagined in new forms. This article discusses one such trope, popularly known as “omegaverse” or alpha/beta/omega fanfiction. Currently counting 89 253 distinct works on the fanfiction platform aO3.org, omegaverse fanfiction draws on popular imaginations of wolf or canine social hierarchies and reproductive behaviours in order to reimagine characters from popular culture into a parallel gender structure as alphas, betas, or omegas. Using concepts from fan studies and feminist theory, this article shows how omegaverse fanfiction treats discourses about gender and embodiment in the same manner as it treats the original media texts, mining them for meaning in order to imaginatively transform them. Through this speculative mode, omegaverse fanfiction creates a space where the discourses associated with gender, biology, and embodiment are broken down into a set of building blocks with which individual authors can explore the inner logic of fictional gender systems on societies, relationships, and situations, examine their consequences, and imagine their downfall. Furthermore, by rewriting these discourses onto familiar characters through fanfictional narratives, the alpha/beta/omega system works as a node through which fans imagine how specific reconfigurations of differently gendered bodies would play out as lived, situated, meaningful experience. The speculative mode that is characteristic of fanfiction as a digital genre, in combination with the affordances of platforms such as ArchiveOfOurOwn.org, support the iterative play not just with products and works of popular culture, but also with the discourses and meanings with which gendered bodies are constructed and made intelligible. The constant reinvention of the trope is made possible through the interconnected and iterative process of this community-based, affect-driven, digitally native genre. Understood as an example of electronic literature, omegaverse fanfiction can be read as a kind of ‘low theory’, theory that exists at the margin of formal knowledge formations, creating alternative ways of talking and thinking about gendered embodiment.


ELO 2021: Identities and bodies panel 27th May 2021

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Daniel Johannes...