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Name: Julia Knaus

PhD: Critical Theory and Cultural Studies

Thesis Title: Lines of Distinction: Self-Other Dynamics Within Cultural Groups


Thesis Abstract:

Lines of Distinction establishes a critical framework for the study of relationship dynamics within cultural groups. As a critical framework, Lines of Distinction are differences associated with value judgements that determine what and who is considered ‘self,’ and therefore ‘good,’ or ‘other,’ and therefore ‘bad.’ This is applied to the often unexamined interior dynamics of cultural groups, using the English-speaking Sherlock Holmes fandom as a primary case study.

The thesis uses Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault’s conceptions of ‘power’ in its critical framework. It focusses in particular on self-other dynamics in a non-hierarchical sense, in that any individual or faction within a cultural group considers themselves to be ‘self’/‘good’ while simultaneously being thought of as ‘other’/‘bad’ by other individuals or factions. This contests an objective hierarchical structure and argues that these Lines of Distinction emerge only through actual practice and interaction. The thesis extensively draws on primary data generated by the actual members of the chosen cultural group, Sherlock Holmes fans. This data was gathered primarily through a questionnaire, interviews and participant observation. It captures three broad categories of Lines of Distinction within this fandom: those relating to the ways in which fans approach their fandom; those that concern the ways fans engage with each other; and those that touch on fans’ demographics. The interplay between these three broad categories is then examined through three fandom activities: meetings, fiction writing and non-fiction writing.

The thesis highlights the complexities of self-other dynamics within groups such as fandoms and the applicability of the framework of Lines of Distinction in diverse situations. In this way, this thesis adds to conversations around cultural power dynamics more broadly, while also giving a more balanced perspective on fandoms, which are cultural groups that have traditionally been homogenised in view of an outside Other. The overall aim of the project is to provide a critical framework that enables the further examination of the interior dynamics of a diverse range of such cultural groups, in fandom and beyond.


Research Questions:

The thesis aims to establish a framework for investigating the interior structure of cultural groups by looking at differences associated with value judgements - "lines of distinction" - as reported by the members of these groups. The case study is the Sherlock Holmes fandom.

How do factions of the cultural group / fandom distinguish themselves from others? Which aspects are imbued with value judgements and form the basis of self-other distinctions?

How are these lines of distinction expressed around selected group/fandom activities? How do they influence these activities and the discourse surrounding them?


Chapter Structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Towards Lines of Distinction: Power in Bourdieu, Foucault and Fan Studies
  3. Lines of Distinction: the Sherlock Holmes Fandom
  4. Meeting Up: Fan Gatherings
  5. Fiction Writing: between Fanfiction and Pastiche
  6. Non-fiction Writing: Shipping Sherlock Holmes and Fan Meta
  7. Conclusion

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

  • Professor Roberta Pearson, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Elizabeth Evans, University of Nottingham


  • Knaus, Julia. 2017. The Great Detective, by Zach Dundas; Gender and the Modern Sherlock Holmes, edited by Nadine Farghaly; and Sherlock Holmes, edited by Alex Werner [book review]. In "Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game," edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Teaching and other academic work:

  • Since summer 2019: Editorial Assistant for CHLEL "Landscapes of Realism: Rethinking Literary Realism(s) in Global Comparative Perspective"
  • 2018/19: Module “Media Identities: who we are and how we feel”
  • 2017/18: Workshop “Designing and Analysing Questionnaires”
  • 2017/18: Module “Consuming Film and Television”
  • 2017/18: Midlands3Cities Student Advisory Forum Representative at UoN
  • 2016/17: Module “Cultural Politics”
  • 2013-16: Editorial Assistant for Journal of Screenwriting, Intellect

Conference Papers:

  • Paper (July 2018) ‘Self-Other Dynamics within Groups: Meetings in the Sherlock Holmes Fandom,’ MeCCSA PGN Conference, Christ Church University Canterbury
  • Paper (July 2017) ‘Fanfiction Tropes: Approaching Types of Adaptation in Fandom,’ Evolving Stories Conference, De Montfort University Leicester
  • Paper (July 2017) ‘Inclusion and Exclusion within Fandoms: The Baker Street Irregulars Annual Meeting,’ Fan Studies Network Conference, University of Huddersfield
  • Paper (July 2016) ‘Fanfiction and Pastiche,’ Theorising the Popular Conference at Liverpool Hope University


Other Research Interests:

  • Adaptation and Transformative Works
  • Detective Fiction
  • Victorian Literature (especially the Gothic and Doppelgängers)
  • Screenwriting




University email address:

Additional email address: phd[AT]shstudies[DOT]eu

Twitter: @HolmesPhD

Tumblr: HolmesPhD


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