Narrating self, narrating community: Zine discovery narratives in sociolinguistic interviews

Inge Stockburger

Georgetown University, United States of America


Zines are self-published homemade booklets created, produced, and distributed by the writers themselves. Zines come in a variety of shapes, styles, and subjects, but what they share is a sense of opposition to mainstream culture. Zines have recently moved into the sociolinguistic spotlight with studies of language use in zines (Sutton 1999, Androutsopoulos 2001). Here, I depart from the study of language in zines and analyze how writers talk about their experience with zines. Duncombe (1997) suggests that producing a zine is as much about participating in a community as it is about personal expression. Yet we know little about how, or whether, this community is discursively constructed in stories zine writers tell about zines.

The data set for this paper is culled from narratives that emerge in sociolinguistic interviews with 10 zine writers in Chicago, Illinois. Using discourse analysis, I analyze a central narrative that emerged in each interview, what I call the “zine discovery” narrative. Zine writers often construct the first time they heard about or saw a zine as a liberating discovery of an underground, more authentic world which, upon discovery, they felt compelled to join. I analyze structural and evaluative consistencies among the writers’ zine discovery narratives. For example, two zine writers describe the actual moment of learning about zines for the first time in similar ways.

(1) LB: so I was like “I have to make my own cause I gotta do it”

(a) Alex: and I’m like “who:a these are really cool, this is really cool,

I can do this” y’know?

Through presentation of an inner voice, both speakers construct a sense of immediacy and compulsion to produce a zine themselves. The use of constructed dialogue to display this crucial evaluation is one of the core ingredients of the zine discovery narrative.

Research on the role of shared stories in institutions (Linde 2000) and among Holocaust survivors (Schiff et al 2006) has shown how the stories of others can provide shared schemas or blueprints to interpret, organize, and narrate one’s own personal experiences. Since zine communities are not centralized like institutions or grounded in shared experience of trauma, it is interesting to still find collective narratives underlying personal accounts. This research thus contributes to our understanding of how speakers from dispersed and scattered communities draw from shared stories to construct their autobiographies.

Androutsopoulos, Jannis. (2000) Non-standard spellings in media texts: The

case of German fanzines. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(4): 514-533.

Duncombe, Stephen. (1997) Notes from the underground: Zines and the politics of alternative culture. London: Verso.

Linde, Charlotte. (2000) The acquisition of a speaker by a story: How history becomes memory and identity. Ethos 28(4): 608-632.

Schiff, Brian et al. (2006) Consistency and change in the repeated narratives of Holocaust survivors. Narrative Inquiry 16(2): 349-377.

Sutton, Laurel. (1999) All media are created equal: Do-it-yourself identity in

alternative publishing. In Mary Bucholtz et al (Eds.), Reinventing identities: The gendered self in discourse. New York: Oxford.

Session: Paper session
Narratives 1 (self)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 13