Affinity Spaces

Heather Lawver

In an era of convergence with new media popping up daily children and their parents become more and more disconnected. The technological evolution has distanced the generations in families when younger members tend to catch on to emerging tech before those of the more mature age group. It is not uncommon to have children teaching their parents, grandparents, or elder siblings how to use new forms of communication, devices, or media. The technological gap and convergence in society is also creating distance between younger generations and traditional forms of learning. Books are replaced by television and DVDs, while board games become dusty when the latest XBOX 360 game sits atop the entertainment center.

Parents find reaching their children in an age of technology more and more difficult which makes the story of Heather Lawver even more heroic and profound. Heather Lawver is a name well known in popular culture, the young girl who took on a media giant to win fans the right to publish fan fiction of Harry Potter via the “Potter Wars.”  Heather’s website “The Daily Prophet” was a fan fiction site that allowed children to run, write, and report on the happenings of the world of Harry Potter. Children created identities, wrote articles, and interacted with one another in their Harry Potter personas across the world.

Dr. Henry Jenkins wrote an inspiring article entitled “Why Heather Can Write” about the plight of this incredible young woman, and how she and fans like her challenged the Warner Brothers conglomerate. In reading Dr. Jenkins article, I was awestruck by the perseverance and determination of a group of children and young adults who clearly believed in something enough to fight for it.

The desire and longing of a group of fans to be part of an imaginary world to help them explore and evolve their creativity is not a new concept. Many fan sites that create fictional works continuing fans’ favorite stories are commonplace. What makes Heather Lawver and “The Daily Prophet” website’s story unique was that the site was run, written, maintained, and developed by children for children. Heather and her friends even created templates to encourage other students and teachers to develop their own form of the newspaper to help children’s creativity to bloom.

I was truly inspired by the story of this young woman and the fans of the Harry Potter brand, and how deeply they related to the stories written by JK Rowling. The ability for children to delve into this imaginitive world and find their own “Affinity Spaces” in this magical realm is something any parent would want for their child. Dr. Jenkins discusses the creating of the term affinity spaces by Professor James Paul Gees and how it is revamping how educators and parents alike look at formal education.

“University of  Wisconsin-Madison  School of  Education Professor James Paul Gee calls such informal learning cultures “affinity spaces,”  asking why people learn more, participate more actively, engage more deeply with popular culture than they do with the contents of  their  textbook As one sixteen-year-old Harry Potter  fan told me,  “It is one thing to be discussing the theme of  a short story you’ve  never heard of  before and couldn’t care less about. It is another to be discussing the theme of your friend’s 50,000-word opus about Harry and Hermione that they’ve spent three  months writing.” Affinity  spaces offer  powerful opportunities for learning, Gee argues, because they are sustained by common endeavors that bridge across differences in age, class, race, gender, and educational level, because people can participate in various ways according to their skills and interests, because they depend on peer-to-peer teaching with each participant constantly motivated to acquire new  knowledge or refine his  or  her existing skills, and because they allow each participant to feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of  others (Jenkins 177).” Many educators believe that children fully immersing themselves into their educational experience, not only creates a better student, but a well-adapted human being. Allowing children to participate and fully engage the concept of affinity spaces will enable them to grow beyond the realms of traditional teaching.

While the transition and confusion of a convergent era in both media and culture leaves many corporations at a loss, I believe it is imperative that the populous demands these institutions support the creativity and education of our youth. Heather’s battle in the “Potter Wars” not only supported this ideology, but did so with guns blazing. Rallying not only children of a like mind, Heather was able to find the support of thousands of fans across the globe.

Heather still continues to write on her blog, and maintains many of her friendships with those who supported her during a difficult time in her life. In a recent blog post, Heather discussed how important and meaningful the relationships forged from and because of “The Daily Prophet” were to her, “To me, the legacy of PotterWar doesn’t even have much to do with Harry Potter anymore. Even the traumatic memories are starting to fade about the frightening circumstances under which the boycott ended, when that bone infection I’d been fighting spread to my brain. Ten years later, all of those memories of debates, demands, boycotts, and interviews have faded in comparison to the people behind it who have changed and enriched my life (Lawver 1).”

Her inspiring story and push for change led to Warner Brothers not only formally apologizing to fans, but it enabled the Harry Potter brand to flourish and thrive. Today, fan sites, writers, and enthusiasts enjoy the ability to delve into their affinity spaces without the threat of persecution thanks to the acts of one brave 13 year old girl from Mississippi.


For Works Cited

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. 1st Ed. New York City: NYU Press, 2006. 169-205. Print

Lawver, Heather. PotterWar: A Decade Later. The Heather Show, pp.1, February 2011.

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