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Notes on Boellstorff (2008), Chapter 3

July 8, 2009

Boellstorff, T. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chapter 3 – Method, pp. 60-86

60-62 Interesting methods discussion

60 Mead-Freeman debate; author sides with Mead; makes glib point about SL vs. Samoa: ‘After all, Freeman’s accusation against Mead was that she made things up, and what are virtual worlds if not made up?’. Not quite the same thing, Tom. If you came back from your SL fieldwork and made up your findings that would be problematic…SL may be ‘made up’ but as your ethnography itself shows, it is no less real to its residents than the ‘actual world’.

61 Starting question was methodological: ‘What can ethnography tell us about virtual worlds?’. Whole project conducted inside SL, as avatar Tom Bukowski. Questions numerous studies of online culture for aiming at showing the continuities between online and offline, 62 e.g. Miller and Slater (2000) [as opposed to Hine 2000?].

62 Key point: SL itself creates technological context. In technology studies it’s a commonplace to study technologies in context. In virtual worlds, ‘the virtual world itself becomes a particular social, economic, and political context’.

63 What SL residents take from actual world is limited; actual world sociality cannot explain SL sociality; ‘virtual worlds are not just recreations or simulations of actual-world selfhoods and communities. Selfhood, community, even notions of human nature are being remade in them’.

64 Book’s aim: to understand SL’s cultural logic, more specifically ‘to demonstrate the existence of a relatively enduring cultural logic shared in some way by those who participate in Second Life, though their stances toward this cultural logic differ’. Main aim is ‘to explore overarching cultural norms’ not SL subcultures – 64 parallel here to prior Indonesian research by author. OK, but what do you mean by cultural logic? And where do cultural practices come into it?

65 How useful are traditional anthro methods?

66 Anthros slow to see the cultural nature of virtual worlds. Author uses phrase ‘culture in virtual worlds’ not ‘virtual culture’ in order to ‘underscore how cultures in virtual worlds are simply new, “highly particular” [Geertz 1973] forms of culture’.

67 Previous studies

68 Elicitation methods (surveys, interviews…) assume people know why and how they do things, and can talk about it with ease. In contrast, participant observation is a form of techne – ‘the researcher [becomes] involved in crafting events as they occur’. We can use elicitation methods in virtual worlds research but must also do more participant observation. 71 This study ‘is built around an analysis of social interaction gathered through participant observation’.

69 Explains and defends Boasian approach

72 Sensationalism in virtual world writing is common: cross-dressing, non-mainstream sexual practices, people making real-world money, etc. We need to pay more attention to the everyday and mundane.

74 Inalienable hair (prim) example to show participant observation approach; 74-75 nice example, it works

76-79 Interviews, focus groups, beyond the platform, 79 blogs, periodicals, etc, important to many residents so anthropologist used them as well

79 News media within SL as additional sources of info that otherwise beyond reach

81 Banned actual-world onlookers to participate without own avatar because disconcerting

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