Criticism of Parasocial Interaction Theory in Public Relations Research: A Fan Studies Application Through BTS ARMY Autoethnographies and Situational Theory of Publics

Emma Carroll Hudson, Syracuse University


This thesis investigates the reliability and ethics of parasocial interaction theory (PSI) for public relations (PR) practitioners to rely on when creating content or campaigns for fans. Drawing on literature from fan studies and public relations theories, this research proposes situational theory of publics as an alternative theory when researching the motivations and passions of fandom communities. The researcher employs a qualitative multimethod design that integrates individual in-depth interviews (IDIs) with PR practitioners in fan engagement specialist roles and autoethnographic essays written by BTS’ ARMY–a fandom that supports popular K-pop group Bangtan Soyeondan (BTS). The interviews and essays are coded to identify whether the mindset of the fan engagement specialist and fan can be categorized as identifying with PSI or situational theory of publics as part of a qualitative thematic analysis. Findings from both fan engagement specialists and ARMY reveal that they view fans as active publics since fandoms represent community, meaning situational theory of publics best serves as a PR theoretical framework in studying today’s fandom culture. The fan engagement specialists and ARMY share similar views as both parties identify as fans, thus, demonstrating an understanding of fandom from an insider perspective that revealed the positive participatory culture experience. By viewing fans as an active public, the research recommends that PR practitioners use research methods to study the nuances of fan activity to make an authentic connection as a reflection of their audience research, and engage in co-creating practices.