Theorizing a Public Engagement Keystone: Seeing Fandom's Integral Connection to Civic Engagement Through the Case of the Harry Potter Alliance

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Transformative Works & Cultures







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The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) has invited thousands of Harry Potter fans to view politics and activism through the lens of Harry Potter. HPA members have signed petitions, sent letters, made videos, and raised money in efforts to affect laws and public policies. These activities circulate and operate within the public sphere through an engagement with others. If we are to consider the political actions of fans, we must consider how fans insert arguments into the public sphere, constitute publics, and ultimately assert their own public subjectivities. By drawing on social movement and public sphere theory, I first develop the theoretical concept of the "public engagement keystone." I conceptualize the public engagement keystone as a touch point, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible. Next, I use the case of the HPA to demonstrate how the Harry Potter story operates as a public engagement keystone, opening the door to public subjectivities on par with the healthy public formation of John Dewey, Doug McAdam, or Peter Dahlgren. I offer an interdisciplinary approach to how fandom encourages and invites civic engagement. By doing so, public sphere theory can better account for a wider variety of types of civic engagement, including fandom activism.

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