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Virtual Environments and Cultures

A Collection of Social Anthropological Research in Virtual Cultures and Landscapes

Edited By Undine Frömming

Virtual reality is no longer an issue that we can avoid or ignore. It is an essential part of our experience, influencing cultures and individuals all over the world. This book presents a collection of ethnographic research in the virtual world of Second Life, and can be seen as an attempt to discover the challenges and limits of social anthropological research with an avatar in virtual cultures and environments. The contributions in this book demonstrate that the development of «digital codes» has meanwhile gone so far that anthropologists have started to conduct fieldwork inside digital user-generated worlds. This volume investigates the challenges facing a reality that is strongly and maybe irrevocably entangled with virtual reality. This development holds disadvantages and dangers but advantages as well - such as freedom of expressions for minority groups, social online activists, religious communities or artists. All research is based on qualitative methods, with group and single interview situations and participant observation over a period of between three and ten months.

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Acknowledgements

Extract

This book is the result of a virtual research experiment conducted in the virtual world Second Life over four semesters from the year 2009 to 2013 at Freie Uni- versität Berlin, Germany. Over fifty students from the international M.A. Pro- gram in Visual and Media Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin participated in the experiment, a class with the title “Social Anthropology in Virtual Wolrds”. The aim of the class was to discuss classic and current Virtual Cultures Research theory, including Cyberanthropology and ethnographic audiovisual methods, as well as to conduct or “simulate” ethnographic research in virtual cultures, and environments. In addition to their independent research, students met together for regular classes, which were run by the editor together with the co-lecturer, Sa- mantha Fox from Columbia University. All weekly classes took place via Avatars and voice-chat within Second Life in the 3D-classrooms of the Freie Universität Berlin on Edunation Island. This book presents a collection of the written re- search reports that resulted from the research described above, and can be seen as an attempt to discover the challenges and limits of social anthropological research with an avatar in virtual cultures and environments. The editor would like to thank Tom Boellstorff for all of his inspiration an his foreword to this book, Freie Universität Berlin for funding this course, and Heike Philip (EU-Project Avalon: Access to Virtual and Action Learning Live ONLine), and Dr. Randall Sadler from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for providing the...

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