This week’s reading about the Harry Potter Alliance in DIY Citizenship was intriguing and insightful. It demonstrated the way in which fan allegiance in popular culture can be channeled into social activism and become an entry point into political engagement for adolescents and young adults. The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) is a non-profit organization set up by Andrew Slack in 2005 to draw attention to human rights violations in Sudan. The organization is run by Harry Potter fans and has numerous chapters in high schools and universities across the globe (Jenkins, 2015).
My reaction and fascination with this are based on two factors. Firstly, as a parent with two children who grew up as Potter fans, pretty much in chronological lock-step with Harry, Hermione, and Ron and through whom I have more than a passing acquaintance with the franchise, its images, themes, symbols, and motifs. Secondly, as a history educator, who teaches courses in Civics and Politics, which sparked ideas as to how I may be able to channel what I was reading into authentic engagement, using popular culture in my own classroom.
On inquiring with my older child, who is engaged in a number of social activism initiatives and organizations, as to whether she had heard of HPA, I was surprised to learn from her that not only did she know about HPA, but that there was a chapter at her university. When I inquired as to what she thought of it and why she herself was not involved, I was informed that she had actually been to some of their fund-raising initiatives (parents are always the last to know) such as the “Yule Ball” fundraiser, but that the chapter at her university seemed to be primarily focused on fund-raising for charities such as J.K. Rowling’s Luminos charity and were not directly involved in local social activism initiatives. In addition, she added that many of her core group of social activist friends were not involved but that it was a different set of young adults who were running the HPA at her university. This bears out Jenkins (2015) assertion that HPA’s value lies in the fact that it is targeting young people who are not normally engaged in social activism but who are culturally engaged and it helps them extend their engagement into social activism and politics, often deploying existing skills and capacities in new ways (Jenkins, 2015, p. 70).
As a high school educator, I see the same phenomenon at my school, where there is a core group of students who are actively engaged in clubs and classes that promote issues of social justice and equity. These students are often self-motivated and are able to easily translate and channel their interest and energy into a number of initiatives and their learning. However, there are many other students who are enthusiastic and keen but who are not intrinsically motivated by social justice issues, yet are keenly into culture. If this could be channeled in a way that allows them an entry point into social and political engagement, either through clubs or through project-based learning in classrooms that translates their cultural currency and enthusiasm (I am thinking of a Justice League, superhero themed club or Project Based learning assignment), then truly we could advance one of the goals of high school education, namely, developing well-rounded, aware and engaged future citizens.
Jenkins, H. (2015). Fan Activism as Participatory Politics: The Case of the Harry Potter Alliance. In Matt Ratto & Megan Boler (Eds.), DIY Citizenship (pp. 65-73). Cambridge: MIT.
Daraius M. Bharucha is a history educator and Department Head of History at Bill Crothers Secondary School. Daraius is also a student at UOIT in the M.Ed. in Digital Technology Program.