"Fantasy football meets Dungeons and Dragons." That's how Crystle Martin, a post-doc at UC Irvine, describes a pro-wrestling fan community she explored as part of her academic research. Martin used to study library sciences. Now she studies professional wrestling fandom. Crystle insists that it's not that big of a leap. Though pro wrestling is easy to make light of, turns out the online communities young people form around this highly theatrical form of sports entertainment can be intellectual, rigorous, and obsessed with quality narrative.
Crystle and I are both part of a network of researchers exploring how digital and social media are transforming learning and civics. Our colleagues have investigated lots and lots of youth communities, from StarCraft II geekhood to Dream Activists (PDF) to e-textile makers. Crystle was drawn to studying pro wrestling fandom because of its low barriers to participation, the diversity and global scale of its base, and because of the sheer intensity of fans' online engagement. It helped that back in the eighties, Crystle was an Andre the Giant fan.
Pro-wrestling fandom as model learning community? Maybe the young wrestling enthusiasts have figured something out that teachers should pay attention to. I asked Crystle to elaborate. Below is our conversation, lightly edited. Crystle's full case study is here. (more…)