Culture, Learning, and Participation
Edited By Anne Burke and Jackie Marsh
7. Virtual clay or virtual play: Identity shaping, consumer building and corporate affiliation versus literacies affordance inside barbiegirls.com
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Virtual Play or Virtual Clay?
Barbiegirls.com as a Space of Constructive Play or Identity Shaping
Introduction: Problematising Virtual Worlds for the Young
This chapter draws on data gathered via a cyberethnographic1 journey into the virtual world of barbiegirls.com conducted by the author, an educational researcher. The work appropriates a social semiotic ‘app’ to discuss the formation of identity within one particular virtual world for the young—barbiegirls.com. It will be suggested that whilst the young seemingly enjoy freedom to create themselves as avatars with adornments, to venture into new spaces, to enact new social practices of engagement, to utilise multiple affordances to learn basic literacy skills, social awareness, and practise creative problem solving; in reality virtual spaces are rarely free from commercial inducements and hard-sell advertising (Meyers, Nathan, & Unsworth, 2010). Foucault’s (1982) notion of the panopticon is co-opted in the examination of how virtual world designers employ hegemonic discourses that construct the subject, and facilitate the performance of social practices that create consumers and a particular type of social uniformity.
It is increasingly being acknowledged that digital affordances are the most powerful tools we have ever had to inspire children to learn in new ways through play. This kind of learning is radically different from the traditional accumulation of facts or acquisition of knowledge-type learning (Thomas & Brown, 2009). Cook and Brown (1999) name it ‘knowledge in action’...
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