Identity, Politics, and Influence in online K-Pop Communities


Supervisor: Devyani Sharma

Non-accademic partner: Korean Cultural Centre UK

Studentship start date: October 2021

The global K-pop fan community is highly multicultural and multilingual, and fans form social bonds across large cultural and geographical distances. How members stake a claim to their fan identity amidst this complex mix of nationalities, languages and cultures is of interest, as individual cultural backgrounds come up against a globalised community. Previous studies have shown that the K-pop fan community is complex and involves hierarchies where certain fans are seen as group leaders, coordinating large-scale actions. For example, in early 2020 K-pop fans participated actively in Black Lives Matter online protests, marking a major change for the community. Fans expressed their identity not only through music and style but also through shared ideological positions with organisations such as BLM. It is unclear how fans coordinated these activism activities, what gives certain fans the authority to instruct others to participate in movements like Black Lives Matter, and how opinions about issues unrelated to K-pop became important to fans’ identities. This study will investigate how K-pop fans use their online posts and conversations to create and project an identity (and to distance themselves from disfavoured identities), and further how seemingly unrelated ideologies come to be incorporated and central in those identities. To do this, this project will conduct a digital ethnography, observing fan practice both online and offline and on a range of online platforms. The project will take a multimodal approach, studying not only text-based posts on websites like Twitter, but also pictures, videos, GIFs, and other forms of rich communication across several platforms. Online communities combine these tools almost constantly; studying them as an integrated platform for social meaning is key to capturing social and political life online. This project aims to advance the study of how individuals come to be embedded in online social structures, as our social lives increasingly move into the virtual sphere.