Cultural ratcheting in online fanfiction

Modelling of ratcheting (re: cultural evolution theory) in online fanfiction.

– ongoing –

with Alberto Acerbi (Brunel University London) and Simone Rebora (University of Verona, University of Basel)

Graph of accumulation of characters in AO3 Harry Potter stories

Using online fanfiction stories (Archive of Our Own, AO3), we are testing the hypothesis — derived from cultural evolution theory — that cultural innovations are mostly recombinations of previously existing elements. We are using data from 10 years of publications on AO3 for a total of around 200,000 stories and more than 2 million tags describing characters, relationships, topics, and genre. This research illustrates the potential of the combination of cultural evolution theory and digital literary studies, and it paves the way for the study of the effects of online digital media on cultural cumulation.

Tools and skills

R, tidyverse, Google cloud computing

Web scraping, hierarchical clustering, t-SNE, virtual machine deployment


Pianzola, Federico. 2020. Cumulative Cultural Evolution scheme