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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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Virtual Worlds, Pedagogy, and Knowledge Tom Boellstorff Virtual Environments and Cultures is an experiment in collaborative writing, bridging pedagogy and research. One striking aspect of this volume is that it is the product of an extended class-based engagement within a single virtual world, Second Life. This permits an intertextual richness, as the component chapters link a range of student experiences and insights. The meeting of learning and the- ory makes for fascinating reading. The authors speak frankly about their success- es but also challenges and even failures in their attempts to conduct ethnographic research in Second Life. This acknowledgement of difficulties encountered is in fact a vital aspect of good ethnographic practice, a tradition going back at least to Malinowski’s “odyssey of blunders in field-work” in his classic monograph Coral Gardens and Their Magic (Malinowski 1935: 324–330). I salute the contributors for their fascinating work, as well as Undine Fröm- ming, whose pedagogical and editorial skills were clearly central to the book’s publication. I hope to see more examples of this kind of work in the future—with the caveat that (as appears to have been the case here) ethical research practices and oversight are as important in a virtual-world context as anywhere else; in the United States and many other countries, students involved in research like this would need human subjects clearance from their university’s Institutional Review Board. The rich contributions to Virtual Environments and Cultures speak to a range of conceptual and empirical questions that should...

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