Thesis Christ: Ivy He on Raising Up an Idol

Spring/Fall, the celebration of seniors that graduate in fall semester, is right around the corner. I had a chance to interview Ivy He, who just turned in her thesis and is excited about graduation.

Ivy is a sociology senior from China. Long a devoted music fan, she decided to write her thesis on the self-definition and sense-making of music fans, the social and personal dynamics that shape fan participation and commitment, and how engagement in fandom creates meaning in fans’ lives.

In her thesis, “Raising Up an Idol: Inside the Fandom of Chinese Idol TFBoys and TF Family,” Ivy explores the specific fandom of TFBoys, the most popular Chinese teenage idol group, whose fans are known as the TF Family. The TFBoys fandom has morphed into such a large and active subcultural movement that fans now refer to themselves as the “Empire.”

Ivy’s thesis draws from multi-method ethnographic research that involves virtual ethnography, autoethnography, interviews, and participant observations. A fan of TFBoys since 2015, Ivy has gradually developed a complicated and nuanced understanding about fandom. It bothers her to see how fandom is often trivialized and oversimplified, and she hopes to humanize fans by presenting their voices, rationales, and emotions. Indeed, this is what inspired her to come up with her thesis topic.

Reflecting back on her Reed experience, Ivy is grateful to the sociology department, which equips her with a wide array of tools to explore social phenomena and investigate puzzles that interest her. Although her academic interests have shifted multiple times throughout her time at Reed, she has been able to narrow down the scope of her interests and passions. Sociological theory in particular has been a constant and profound inspiration for her. Looking back at her early papers, it strikes her how far she has gone in terms of her thinking and writing. She hopes to keep working on these skills and to make her sociological knowledge empowering to herself and to others.

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