Drawing together archival research from libraries, archives, online resources, and distribution hubs, this research project maps the material and social lives of zines.
The objective is to both physically and theoretically map the trajectories of self-publishing channels/networks in NYC. The premise is that mapping the social dimensions of zine exchange -- the ways in which zines were produced, appropriated, and consumed throughout their histories by different individuals, at different times -- provides valuable insights into how sub-cultural communities were formed and social ties maintained. Moreover, mapping the geographic circulation routes of exchange allows for a unique spatial analysis of how zines influenced political moments and alliances between movement organizations.
Much of the existing scholarship on zine culture concerns how the popularization of the medium during the 1980s-1990s reconceptualized notions of collective space. Scholars such as Kate Eichhorn, Adela C. Licona, Marion Leonard, and Steven Duncombe have all aptly demonstrated how zine community appropriated communication tactics to “reorganize space” in ways that moved them beyond the limits of their physical locations or domestic circumstances. However, a purely rhetorical or discursive analysis of zine content and culture fails to adequately address the situated material and spatial networks that operate within the same context. Pairing a discursive analysis of zine culture with a material/spatial analysis of zine networks illuminates how zines A) provide valuable source material about their sites of origin and B) construct a complex set of place-based social, political, and cultural realities.
The zines represented on this map were all published during the last 30 years, and reference a rich era in social and political action associated with the rise of third wave feminism, queer politics, and the formation of local direct action advocacy groups such as ACT UP. The historical timeframe of the project also points to a critical turning point in media studies, where the mass popularization of the Internet coincided with the rapid spread of DIY culture and zines.
Kate Eichhorn evaluates how zine communities, as sites of political organizing and cultural production, cut through and across the geographic boundaries of place. Referencing Donna Haraway's cyborg theory, she investigates the possibility of zines creating communities without bodies, without centres or cores. As she notes, "one of the things that makes zine networks unique is the degree to which geographical boundaries are displaced (Eichhorn 18)."
Adela C. Licona similarly argues that zines represent a new frontier of potential for what she calls "borderlands rhetorics" -- that is, rhetorics of resistance, coalition, and activism that operate in "third space" contexts#.
Marion Leonard further addresses how zines are a means of contacting like minded individuals who do not live locally. "... riot girl has grown, not in spite of its participants being disparately located by because of the freedom and opportunity created by not being bounded within a particular locale (Leonard 109)."
The rhetoric of zine culture also addresses the shifting borders of communication: from one-way modes of dissemination to two-way communication channels and increased peer-to-peer exchanges. According to Steven Duncombe, the notion of turning readers into writers—what he calls emulation—circumvented the division between producers and consumers (123). Moreover, he demonstrates how the the zine-making process was in and of itself (that is, apart from its content) was formulated as a resistance to the accepted consumer logic.