Saturday, October 10, 2015

Through the Eyes of an Outsider

by Anna Koivu

Sitting down for an interview is not something new for Alena Brunner, who studies and works in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. During the last few months, Brunner has been following and interviewing the members of the Vienna Vanguards for her ongoing master’s thesis dealing with the aspects of identity, material culture, and fan practices within the Harry Potter fandom. We thought it was about time the tables were turned and had Brunner answer some questions instead.

Vienna Vanguards | Photo Credit: Vienna Vanguards (Facebook)
QP: You focused your bachelors thesis on Harry Potter and its fan community. Why did you choose to focus on this? Have you always had a connection to the Harry Potter fandom?
Brunner: The Harry Potter narrative and everything connected to it always was, and obviously still is, a big part of my life. My first contact with Harry Potter was when I saw the first movie in the cinema. I was the perfect age 11 or 12 and was hooked immediately. Everything that followed, reading the books and meeting other fans, led to this interview.

When I chose to study Cultural and Social Anthropology, I always knew I wanted to write about the Harry Potter fan community, being a part of it myself. Like all communities, fandoms are not homogenous, but quite diverse and therefore exciting. Though being both a fan and a researcher can sometimes be quite complicated it’s difficult to keep your focus as “the researcher” during a two hour interview when you’re talking about a subject that you are so deeply involved in.
QP: Do you already know the exact focus of your thesis and how big of a role quidditch will play in it?
Brunner: Well, as I’m still in the process of collecting data, this is quite a hard question. At this stage, everything can change. But what I can say is that it has something to do with how Harry Potter fans negotiate their fan identity and how the narrative is appropriated by fans. Muggle quidditch or, more precisely, the Vienna Vanguards functions as a case study for my master’s thesis. Talking about adaptation, muggle quidditch really is one of the most striking examples of how something “invented” for a narrative becomes translated into reality by adaptation.
QP: Did you have any idea about what muggle quidditch was before you started your research, or were you already a fan?
Brunner: I first heard about it last October when the first quidditch meetings and practices in Vienna took place. A study colleague of mine told me about it; he knew I was interested in everything Harry Potter because he went to my presentation on my bachelor’s thesis at the Ethnosymposium 2014, a student conference for ethnologist and anthropologists.

I did not have time to go to an open training, so my first real encounter with the game was the day I started my participant observation, the day of the match between the Vienna Vanguards and Three River Dragons Passau. And let me tell you, I was confused as hell!

Obviously I knew the games principles as explained in the books, and I had seen photos of muggle quidditch before. But I can't say I could follow the first game I ever saw. It got better when I realised how the headband system works and who is allowed to touch which ball.

Vienna Vanguards versus Three River Dragons | Photo Credit: J├╝rgen Brandl
QP: Surely you had some expectations of what quidditch could be. Did anything surprise you?
Brunner: Conducting a field study is a challenging process, especially if it is a smaller and tight-knit community, like a sports team. Something I surely did not expect when coming to the first game was how organised you guys are, especially on an international level. And probably also how fast the sport is growing, especially now with teams forming all over Austria and Europe. The dedication every member has for the sport and how people get involved is truly something worth mentioning.

Later, in my research, I also found that the sport is slowly getting recognised in academic fields such as education and sport studies. An example of this would be the study by Adam Cohen, E. Nicole Melton, and Jon Welty* on the topic of how quidditch can encourage inclusion and equality. And, of course, in the field of fan studies there is the upcoming publication “Playing Harry Potter: Essays and Interviews on Fandom and Performance” by Lisa S. Brenner.
QP: It feels weird saying this since you have become a part of our community during the last months of observing us, but as an “outsider, what kind of an impression have you got of us “quidkids”?
Brunner: Well, I appreciate you saying this, and I really want this honorary jersey we talked about! I do not want to repeat myself too much, so leaving the organisation and devotion aside, the overall impression is that you guys know how to have fun while at the same time contribute to establishing a new sport. You took a sport only existing in a fictional world and made it something real. That’s remarkable.
QP: During your observations, what has been your most memorable quidditch moment?
Brunner: I can’t get rid of the feeling you want to point to a specific event in which I ruptured my cross-band during an open training – the first and only time I actually got to play. But although it’s painful and still really annoying I think this moment perishes when looking at the bigger picture of getting to know the world of quidditch. (Editor’s Note: Brunner had a knee operation on July 16 to fix the injury).
QP: Can you offer any sneak peaks of the results of your research? What have you learned about us?
Brunner: [laughs] I do not want to lecture you about stuff you know best. Of course it makes a difference which kind of fan practice you look at, and for the example of muggle quidditch I don’t think one can limit the sport to being a fan practice. It has become a community within itself not limited to Harry Potter fans. Having said that, going to a team barbecue and ending up being one of four out of twelve people there with a Deathly Hallows tattoo showed me that I came to the right place for my research.
QP: Do you see quidditch as something that will be part of your life in the future?
Brunner: If the doctors let me….No, honestly, I can’t see how I even could get away from you guys. Also, I do need a topic for my Ph.D. project!
If you want to know more about Brunner’s developing research project, you can contact her at

* Adam Cohen, E. Nicole Melton, Jon Welty Peachey. (2014, March). Investigating a coed sport's ability to encourage inclusion and equality. Journal of Sport Management. Retrieved from

No comments:

Post a Comment