With/In Limits: Play as Practice in the Digital Vernacular



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Participatory cultures were among the first groups to form communities online. Since 2004, however, the interpenetration of “social” media with “everyday life” has transformed the way fans and others use and inhabit digital spaces. Taking SuperWhoLock fandom on Tumblr as a test case and textual archive, this project demonstrates how fans’ manipulation of digital accordances has in turn transformed the social media landscape: from the creation of “user-generated content” that keeps digital audiences engaged, to the integration of entextualized media fragments into everyday communicative practice. Working with a set of texts selected from SuperWhoLock fandom (c. 2012-2015), I identify key “protocols” developed within participatory cultures that continue to structure the sociolinguistics of the vernacular web. I examine how fans’ tactics for foregrounding, representing, and managing affect in digitally mediated relationships rely on an underlying ethos of play “within constraints”1 that translates to everyday vernacular usages of digital technologies. Finally, I show that the prolific textual generativity of fans’ “play/work” functions as the unpaid and discursively elided labor on which social media’s continued profitability depends.