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“Expressive rationality”: Habitus and field in a Malaysian cosplay community

ABSTRACT

Malaysian cosplayers, as a subset of Asian cosplayers, engage in a visually performative activity which raises the issues of ethnic and gender performativity, among other identity markers. This is further contextualised within an “everyday-defined” experience of identity, in which its formation is influenced by non-“social power” agents such as popular narratives (Baharuddin 1996: 18; Baharuddin and Athi 2015: 268). In addition, cosplayers are noted to be affected by global cultural flows. Given its relevance to studies of cosplay, I use Bourdieu’s framework of cultural capital to outline the components which make up an established cosplayer. Using a snowball sample, I survey several tertiary educated and employed Malaysian cosplayers regarding the cultural capital they use to navigate the intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. I compare the responses of my sample to that of cosplayers from international forums, and to the content of emerging counter-hegemonic popular narratives. My findings suggest that cosplay can be viewed as a form of public theatre, comprising rational and expressive elements.

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