popconcert, publiek, hart-symbool met handen

Taylor Swift is not your BFF

Date: Time: 15:00 Location: Blackbox, Esplanade building

But being in a parasocial relationship can make you feel that way. Learn more about this phenomenon and its relevance to online fan culture and celebrity worship at this symposium. (English / SG-Certificate*)

Time: 15:00 - 17:00 hrs. Doors open: 14:45 hrs.
Admission free, no registration required.

You don’t know me, but I know you

Ever felt deeply connected to a celebrity, despite never having met them in person? This could be the beginning of a parasocial relationship: a one-sided connection between a fan and a celebrity, which is fueled by their online presence and media portrayal. In these relationships, the fan invests a large amount of emotional energy, time and money in the famous person that they look up to, despite the celebrity being completely unaware of their existence.

While some view parasocial relationships as a natural human way to experience intimate connections, relatability and a sense of belonging, others question its potential toxicity. Common in industries like K-Pop and American pop culture, these bonds can blur boundaries and lead to obsessive behaviors.

Why do we care what Taylor Swift does?

The symposium delves into the complexities of parasocial relationships, focusing on Taylor Swift as a case study. Swift's massive fanbase demonstrates intense devotion; vocally strong and going great lengths following, supporting and defending her online. However, when confronted with conflicting information, such as Swift's immense environmental impact (she is the largest polluting celebrity in the world), things get interesting. 

Fans may experience cognitive dissonance, as she is not the perfect celebrity they initially made her out to be. This can challenge their perceptions, potentially disrupting their parasocial relationship. Understanding the complex dynamics of parasocial relationships sheds an important light on the intricacies of online connections and the influence of online media on individuals' perceptions and behaviors. 

After the symposium there will be an optional get together with drinks and a small bite at Grand Café Esplanade.


Lecture by Mingyi Hou - Understanding audience-celebrity relationships

In this talk, Mingyi Hou will reflect on how celebrity-audience relationship has been studied in different disciplines. Parasocial relationship is a type of seeming face-to-face relationship between the audience and the media performer. Oftentimes, it is non-reciprocal and mediated: the audience feels intimate about the performers on screen, but not vice versa. Communication studies have explored PSR for its persuasive potential. The more PSR felt by an audience, the more one feels credible and trustworthy of that performer. PSR is normal, as we all long for someone in long-distance relationships or sadly when facing the loss of our families and friends. In culture studies, celebrity fandom is the recognition of a positive, personal, relatively deep, emotional connection with a mediated element of popular culture. If the mediated element is a person, we are talking about celebrity fandom. It seems that PSR in communication and culture research have a shared focus on audience-celebrity relationship, yet their analytical approaches are different. Fandom is both individual and communal, implying that beyond the fan-celebrity dyad, fandom also manifests in collective and collaborative practices like joining fan sites or offline activities. Mingyi will explore the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches and find ways to establish interdisciplinary dialogue.

Lecture by Sara Pabian - Influencing for the good and not so good on social media

Sara Pabian will reflect on those who influence us on social media, including celebrities and social media influencers. She will present different types of social influence and explain the mechanisms behind it. The parasocial relationship with influencers on social media is a key concept in understanding social influence and influencer marketing. She will look at examples of influencer marketing in the domains of commercial marketing and social marketing. The opportunities and risks of using celebrities and social media influencers for marketing purposes will be discussed. Sara Pabian will conclude her presentation with showing some of the work that has been done and/or that we are currently doing within Tilburg’s Center for Social Influence.


  • Mingyi Hou

    Mingyi Hou

    Assistant Professor, department of Culture Studies (Tilburg University)

    Mingyi Hou is an assistant professor of digital culture at Tilburg University. Her research focuses on discourse analysis, online culture, celebrity and fandom culture, gender studies and public intellectual studies. She has written several academic papers on the difference in parasocial relationships between small influencers and mainstream celebrities. She currently teaches several courses, such as ‘Globalization and its consequences’, ‘Digital Media and Journalism’ and ‘Media, Globalization and Popular Culture’. 

  • Sara Pabian

    Sara Pabian

    Assistant Professor, Department of Communication and Cognition (Tilburg University)

    Prior to joining Tilburg University, Sara Pabian worked as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Antwerp, where she completed her PhD. Since 2011, she conducts research on different forms of online aggression, such as cyberbullying. Besides online aggression, Sara is also interested in online persuasive communication. She is involved in research projects on influencers and influencer marketing. 

Information about the other speakers will follow soon.

More information

This symposium is organized by student association Flow in cooperation with Studium Generale.

Contact: Hannah van den Bosch (Studium Generale).

* For students, this event may count towards the SG-Certificate. Check the SG-Certificate website for all the terms and conditions. 

Follow Studium Generale on social media