Fangirls, free labour and feels: How the internet changed theatre criticism

Megan Vaughan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The thesis is in two parts, representing a convergence of two distinct histories. The first part is a history of newspaper theatre criticism from 1709 to 2020, over three chapters. Based on archival research, it uses key critics, theories and movements to catalogue the historical emergence of the ‘objective’ model for theatre criticism which, by the late twentieth century, had become the dominant ideal for newspaper reviews. At the same time, it offers a counterpoint to that narrative, presenting historic evidence of affective, feeling-led reviewing rarely acknowledged in existing scholarship.

The second part of the thesis begins with an examination of the online participatory culture that developed since the beginnings of networked home computing in the 1980s, creating an environment into which online, amateur theatre reviewing – most often on blogs or volunteer-run magazine-style sites – flourished. Using key theories and approaches from fan studies, from the sociological research of Pierre Bourdieu, and from the findings of 35 expansive field interviews, it explores the social and economic conditions of contemporary amateur theatre critics: firstly, their social hierarchies, secondly, their economies and relationship to professionalism, and finally, their cultures and practices of affective reviewing. I find a divided field; as the internet has evolved into a space for generational and ideological conflict, the autobiographical, feeling-led reviews published by a significant proportion of amateur theatre critics have become an instrument of representation within global social justice movements and campaigns for industrial change.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rebellato, Dan, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Theatre
  • criticism
  • Theatre criticism
  • internet
  • fandom
  • fangirls
  • affect
  • emotion
  • feeling
  • labour
  • participatory culture
  • work
  • professionalism
  • amateur
  • amateurism
  • Digital Humanities
  • sociology
  • theatre studies
  • theatre history
  • subcultural capital
  • Habermas
  • public sphere
  • Bourdieu
  • cultural capital
  • Kenneth Tynan
  • Michael Billington
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Leigh Hunt
  • feminism
  • Sarah Thornton
  • Henry Jenkins
  • Louisa Ellen Stein
  • Paul Booth
  • digi-gratis economy

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