The felt value of reading zines

Abstract

This article explores the meaning and materiality of contemporary zines. As do-it-yourself and profit-resistant publications seeing a sustained resurgence, zines are an interesting and valuable case within the cultural sociology of reading. Based on a thematic analysis of 73 zines collected from a 2019 zine fair, and qualitative interviews with 16 zine readers, in this article we consider the ‘felt value’ (Simmel 2005 [1916]) of zines. We explore how contemporary zines—via their content and form—intimately speak to both the weight and frivolity of life, how they intensively grapple with questions about relationships and ways of living, and what this means for how meaning is made material(ly) in the form. Conceptually, we bring together Thumala Olave’s (2017, 2020) work on affect and reading with Alexander’s (2008a, b) work on iconicity and immersion and Bennett’s (2018a, b) work on the significance and diversification of DIY projects in contemporary cultural practice. We identify four iconic properties of the contemporary form: a DIY ethos and aesthetic, anti-mainstream positioning, an intimacy, and an intensity. These iconic properties offer insight into how reading zines is made meaningful through the iconicity and immersive materiality of the analogue zine form.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We use the 2005 [1916] edition of Rembrandt, edited and translated into English by Alan Scott and Helmut Staubmann. We also draw on David Beer’s (2019) recent work on Simmel to make sense and use of ‘felt value’.

  2. 2.

    Contemporary norms of authorship mean oftentimes zines are published without attribution, under pseudonyms or pennames, or with an Instagram handle for a public art (i.e. not personal) social media page. Throughout, our authorial attribution is reflective of that printed in the zines. Permission has been gained from authors of the zines featured in Images 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 for use in this article.

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Acknowledgements

We thank our participants and the zine makers who generously gave their time, and shared their experiences and their work.

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Correspondence to Ash Watson.

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Watson, A., Bennett, A. The felt value of reading zines. Am J Cult Sociol 9, 115–149 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-020-00108-9

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Keywords

  • Zine
  • Affect
  • Iconicity
  • DIY
  • Reading
  • Materiality