Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Social Sciences, Media and Communications


This thesis analyses the constitution of, and interactions within, five online lesbian fan groups devoted to the United States television series The L Word over a six year period, 2004-2009. This thesis is essentially an audience studies and new media thesis. I draw upon theories of community formation and deliberative democracy, particularly those espoused by John Dryzek (2000) and Seyla Benhabib (1996). I argue that the fan groups studied engage in debates that are indicative of shifting normative discourses in lesbian communities. My argument has implications for the theorisation of lesbian community and the theorisation of online community, and I consequently engage with a wide range of scholarship on both online and offline communities, including that of Henry Jenkins (1992) Shane Phelan (1989, 1994), and Howard Rheingold (1993, 2000).

In order to elaborate on my central claim about fan sites as spaces of deliberation, I focus on flame wars as well as more benign interactions around key topics. These deliberations were provoked by plot elements in The L Word such as the constitution of lesbian communities, including the presence of bisexuals, transgenders, and heterosexuals. Another plot element that provoked discussion was same-sex intimate partner violence. The potential for deliberation in the forums is often affected by the commercialisation of some of the fan forums, and I explore how the fan forums were governed in order to ascertain to what extent this is the case.

The L Word fan forums also offer a manifestation of “the lesbian imaginary,” through the posting and sharing of fan fiction in which lesbian communities, identities, bodies, sexualities and futures are envisioned. Developing the work of Sally Munt (1998b) on the lesbian imaginary, I argue that the imaginary usefully complements a discussion of lesbian deliberation and interaction.

Beyond the negotiations over inclusions or exclusions in the community, or over interpretations of popular culture, is a celebratory sharing and reworking of lesbian desires and fantasies. The fan fiction, which can be written, posted or read by any member of the groups, offers a space where the current and past lesbian imaginary can be celebrated and shared, and future lesbian cultures and communities can be imagined and developed.