American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


The Pleasure in Paradox: The Negotiation Between Agency and Admiration in the Disney Fan Community

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Bradford Clark (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Robert Lindley Sloane (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Emily Pence Brown (Other)


With one of the largest and most dedicated fan bases, the Disney Company enjoys a strong following with adults. A portion of these fans purposefully and pointedly incorporate the Disney brand into their everyday lives making it their chosen lifestyle. Through social media, they have formed a tight knit community that, for many, has become the nexus of their social lives. Disney fandom, however, is not so straightforward and fans face conflicting pressures as Disney, their fellow fans, and their own personal desires attempt to influence their behaviors and fan practices. Disney pressures fans to unquestioningly promote it, consume as much of its products as possible, and to convince others to do the same. The fan community gatekeeps what it means to be a Disney fan and pressures fans to conform to social norms that can suppress individual expression. Fans themselves want to be completely dedicated to both Disney and their community but simultaneously independent and uninfluenced by both. Rather than choosing any one influence, they find a way to accommodate all parties by situating themselves in a paradox that enables them to continue being fans. They are both independent from and dependent upon Disney, they keep community unity through rejection and angst, and they are able to be better community members and Disney fans by pursuing their own self-interests. Using participant-observer ethnography, this dissertation explores the world of these fans to understand how they negotiate agency between the conflicting pressures. Each chapter highlights a paradox fans manage as they establish themselves in their identities as Disney fans. From these paradoxes, I demonstrate that media fandom, particularly with Disney, is not as simple as straightforward admiration and instead, is a complex process that requires careful navigation.