(Crowd)Funding Like a Geek

After I wrote a post about “vexing” and then disappearing for six months, you could be forgiven for thinking that by “vexing” I mean “troll the blog by never posting.” My absence was not prompted by the lulz, however, but by needing to focus all of my attention on fieldwork for my dissertation on tabletop role-playing games.  I still have some fieldwork left to do, but have finally been able to come up for air and share some of how my research has been going and how that relates to geek anthropology.

One of the things I’ve spent some time thinking about is how to do not only anthropology of geek but anthropology as geek.

In other words, are there particular ways that geeks tend to approach and think about things that can positively inform anthropological research?  As you might suspect, I think that there are.  These things may not be uniquely geeky in that you can’t find similar approaches elsewhere but, because I’ve come across them through geek communities, they have been constituted in my experience as part of geek identity.  I suspect that I am not alone in this association.

One important way that geek culture has shaped my research is through informing my response to a common (universal?) challenge for an anthropologist trying to complete a dissertation: where are you going to get your funding?  As Tony Waters has discussed at Savage Minds, scholars tend to fetishize traditional funding sources like the National Science Foundation even as those grants become increasingly competitive. In my case, I applied multiple times for funding from traditional sources and was faced with the prospect of not being able to do my research on gaming at the scale that I felt was necessary to make a real contribution to the topic.

But then I realized that I had spent the past three years building relationships with gamers who faced similar problems.

When they felt passionate about a contribution to the gaming community but didn’t have the funds to make that happen, many gamers would turn to crowdfunding, trying to get others as excited about the work as they were.  After talking to some of my interlocutors about whether they thought the gaming community might be interested in my research, I decided to take a route common within gamin but fairly rare in academia: I would crowdfund my project on Kickstarter.  Running that thirty-day Kickstarter campaign was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had in my academic career, but in the end it payed off and I had the funding I needed!

Now, I don’t think that crowdfunding is “the future of research,” and there are some projects for which it certainly wouldn’t work at all.  In my case, geeks love to get excited and share excitement about their interests. Geeks are also familiar with the idea of Kickstarter as a concept that partially renegotiates the boundaries between producers and consumers.  There are a lot of circumstances that made crowdfunding a good fit for my project, and there are lots of important projects worth doing that would be impossible without traditional funding methods.

With all of that said, there have been some very exciting effects of having pursued my research this way:

  • Because most of my backers identify themselves as gamers, there is an alignment between my ethical responsibilities to represent the people I study with and my fiscal responsibilities to my funding source.
  • Similarly, traditional funding methods tend to be impersonal and formal. The Kickstarter process has left me with a community of people interested in talking to me about my research.  This has not only refined my work, but has been an invaluable support network.
  • Because one of my Kickstarter rewards was to regularly release videos updating backers on my progress, I’ve been able to document my thoughts as I go through the dissertation process in a way I would not have otherwise.  Forcing myself to break up my thoughts into Youtube-sized pieces has helped me to clarify what I’m seeing in my research and get feedback from the community as I go.

Starting next week, I’ll be sharing those videos here on The Geek Anthropologist, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

About Nick Mizer

Although much of my work focuses on tabletop role-playing games, I think that geek culture in general has a lot to offer for anthropological study, from understandings of modernity and consumerism to the role of the imagination and wonder in the midst of those more “serious” trends. As I explore these things, I find myself straddling the borders between anthropology, folkloristics, and performance studies.

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