This is for my thesis as part of the completion of my master's degree in sociology at Ohio University. The working title of my thesis is "Shared Social Fantasy and Identity Performance in the Renaissance Festival Subculture." That's a fancy way of saying the I'm studying how people interact in ways that show different aspects of themselves when they are in the fanciful social setting that renaissance festivals create.
Renaissance festival participants have their own immersive community both in and outside the festival setting, but the festival itself provides a social environment which allows for the performance of non-normative identities which might be deemed deviant outside the festival gates. Examination of this subculture can help sociologists to understand how the shared fantasy created by popular media and fandom, along with the collective socialization processes of the participants themselves, combined with the strain caused by the inability to achieve normative success, either financially or socially, can lead to retreatism into a this subculture setting and non-normative identity expression therein.
Relevant findings can help us better understand identity performance, as well as how culture is constructed through interactions based on shared fantasy. Findings and theoretical applications may also apply to similar social venues including science fiction fandom and conventions, massively-multiplayer online role playing games, live action role playing, historical reenactment societies, and even other festival settings such as Burning Man. The participatory element of this activity, where interaction takes place face to face in an immersive setting which is set apart from the outside world makes renaissance festivals of particularly interest to sociologists.
This study seeks to answer several questions relevant to existing scholarly work in the fields of sociology, performance studies, and fandom and leisure. How is the shared fantasy of romanticized history constructed at renaissance festivals and within the subculture? How do participants become interested and involved in this subculture? How is identity performed in the renaissance festival setting? And to what degree participation in renaissance festivals and affiliation with this subculture affect participants’ lives outside of the renaissance faire?
I will be using the participant observer method to gain insight into the lives and interactions of renaissance festival participants. In addition to the data collected in my own field notes, I will also be interviewing several of the cast members, shop keepers, and other faire participants. I will be travelling on 14 separate weekends between June and October to various renfaires in my region in order to conduct my research. However, travel is expensive! I'm asking for funding to help supplement fuel and other travel costs in order to be able to get to and from the faire sites where my research will take place. So now I appeal to your generosity to help me make this master's thesis research project possible.
I have made a blog for my thesis project called "Of Pirates and Princesses" to which I will be posting updates periodically.
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