Call for Papers – Participations: International Journal of Audience Research: “Masters of the Universe: World-Building and World-Exploring”


Call for Papers – Participations: International Journal of Audience Research:  “Masters of the Universe: World-Building and World-Exploring”

 Editors: William Proctor (Centre for Research in Media & Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, UK) & Dan-Hassler Forest (Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam).

The publication of Mark J.P Wolf’s Building Imaginary Worlds: The History and Theory of Subcreation (2012) is a landmark event in academia. ‘Imaginary worlds,’ writes Wolf, ‘rank among the most elaborate mediated entities [and] have been largely overlooked in Media Studies despite a history spanning three millennia’ (ibid:2). Indeed, the study of world-building is an important field of enquiry given the wealth of people who explore these ‘geographies of the imagination’ as a fundamental feature of their daily lives (Saler, 2012:4). As New York Times film critic, A.O Scott observes, ‘today there are hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions of people whose grasp of the history, politics and mythological traditions of entirely imaginative places could surely qualify them for an advanced degree’ (2002). It is important therefore to recognize that popular entertainment ‘is moving more and more in the direction of subcreational world-building’ and thus warrants close scrutiny and scholarly examination (Wolf, 2012: 13).

In literary studies, Michael Saler’s As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford, 2012) explores the world-building adventures of J.R.R Tolkien, Arthur Conan-Doyle and H.P Lovecraft. Taken alongside Wolf’s work, the two studies complement one another and open up a wider debate about world-building and narrative transmedia in important directions.

While Wolf and Sader raise many important issues and analyses, this call for papers seeks to bring the audience into the conversation to explore world-building from theirperspective: what is important to the reader? Is it true, as Wolf and Sader both argue, that the story-world must make sense? How do audiences traverse the fictional realm of imaginary worlds in practice? Does world-consistency matter, and if so, for what reasons? Is a sense of saturation ‘the goal,’ as Wolf puts it, and to what extent is this even possible? Do audiences ‘rummage for micro-data,’ as David Bordwell argues, and if so, what do they search for? What is the main rationale for their engagement and in what ways do they engage? How do audiences negotiate ‘counter-factual’ texts that can destabilize the ontology of a story-system?

In short, this special section will focus above all on questions that are crucially important for the world-explorers themselves?

This special section of ‘Participations: Journal of International Audience Research’ invites scholars to contribute to the burgeoning field of world-building. Firstly, the work must engage with audiences as opposed to textual analyses while, secondly, providing an original contribution to the field. Speculative accounts about audience engagement are not the aim here – what we are interested in here is a mapping of specific communities and their rich relationships with world-building. How this may be measured is of interest here, too, but the speculation is to be avoided. Materials in circulation, as in web forums and the like, can be utilized, as can audience research conducted by the researcher. If building an argument about how audiences might respond, researchers should consider how to test and verify their claims.

Subjects may vary considerably – this list is not exhaustive and the editors welcome proposals that fit within the widest possible purview of this project. Similarly, this should not indicate any single medium but any medium (or combination thereof) that engages with story-worlds and world-building: examples include prose fiction, comic books, TV, film, theme parks, and any other that meets the requirements of this special section.


Audiences and Imaginary Worlds.

Saturation, Immersion and Absorption.

World-Building and World-Dwelling.

Consistency, Cohesion and Causality.


Narrative Braiding

Proposals will be considered depending upon their validity for audience studies. There are many imaginary world systems that exist in a wider range of media windows including (but not limited to):

The World of Prometheus and Alien

Game of ThronesA Song of Ice and Fire

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

The Novels of Michael Moorcock

Dr. Who

Blade Runner

The Whedon-Verse

Pacific Rim

Star Trek

Star Wars


Frank L. Baum and Oz

True Blood

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Comic Book Universes (DC/ Marvel/ Image/ IDW)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Harry Potter

China Miéville’s Bas-Lag

While Wolf and Sader (2012), among others, do not count soap operas within the imaginary world schemata due to its similarity with the Primary World (that is, the ‘real world’), we believe that this does not take into account the audience members who visit ‘hyperreal’ settings such as The Rovers Return pub that is an iconic feature of Coronation Street. In 1981, Christine Geraghty claimed that viewers of Coronation Street demand consistency from the text even going so far to employ a programme historian to ensure facts are adhered to. This practice mirrors the so-called ‘series bibles’ of imaginary worlds from Star Trek to Star Wars which have served as templates for many other organized world-building exercises. Thus, all fictional worlds are imaginary worlds. This will hopefully attract a larger range of projects than is commonly the case. The following may be considered although these lists are not exhaustive but offer an example of the range of story-systems available for study:

Coronation Street


The Killing

The Sopranos

The Wire

Sex and the City


Breaking Bad

Charles Dickens

William Shakespeare

All proposals will be considered provided they meet the purview of this special issue.

As an online journal Participations does not work with strict word-limits, but instead encourages authors to show their materials, methods of investigation and analysis and theoretical frames explicitly, for the readers’ benefit, without being unnecessarily prolix.  The Journal also does not insist on one style of formatting for references and bibliography, but asks authors to ensure that they are internally clear, consistent and complete.

Abstracts of 350 words are to be forwarded to both William Proctor ( and Dan Hassler-Forest ( by October 31st, 2013. For any queries or suggestions, please contact both parties also. Successful scholars will be expected to submit first drafts by February 1st 2014. The special section is planned for publication in November 2014.


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