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Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Humanby Tom Boellstorff
Synopses & Reviews
Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love: the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. Coming of Age in Second Life is the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.
Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar Tom Bukowski, and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.
Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself.
"Tom Boellstorff describes Second Life warmly and intelligently, highlighting its issues in a thought-provoking manner that is always backed up with evidence. There's an almost tangible depth to his analysis that makes it really stand out. This is just the kind of portrait of a virtual world that I've been waiting to see for years: a full-blooded, book-length tour de force." Richard A. Bartle, Author of Designing Virtual Worlds
"This is the first book to take a sustained look at an environment like Second Life from a purely anthropological perspective. It is sure to become the basis for a new conversation about how we study these spaces. It is impossible to read this book and not come away asking questions about how our lives are being transformed in very real ways by what is happening in the virtual." Douglas Thomas, Author of Hacker Culture
"Taking the bold step of conducting ethnographic fieldwork entirely 'inside' Second Life, Tom Boellstorff invites readers to meditate on the old and new meanings of the virtual and the human. He presses the inventive and compelling claim that anthropologists would do well to imagine culture itself as already harboring the notion of the virtual. Boellstorff argues that being 'virtually human' is what we have been all along." Stefan Helmreich, Author of Silicon Second Nature
About the Author
Tom Boellstorff is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia and The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
PART I: Setting the Virtual Stage 1
CHAPTER 1: The Subject and Scope of This Inquiry 3
Arrivals and departures--Everyday Second Life--Terms of discussion--The emergence of virtual worlds--The posthuman and the human--What this, a book, does.
CHAPTER 2: History 32
Prehistories of the virtual--Histories of virtual technology--A personal virtual history--Histories of virtual worlds--Histories of cybersociality research--Techne.
CHAPTER 3: Method 60
Virtual worlds in their own terms--Anthropology and ethnography--Participant observation--Interviews, focus groups, and beyond the platform--Ethics--Claims and reflexivity.
PART II: Culture in a Virtual World 87
CHAPTER 4: Place and Time 89
Visuality and land--Builds and objects--Lag--Afk--Immersion--Presence.
CHAPTER 5: Personhood 118
The self--The life course--Avatars and alts--Embodiment--Gender and race--Agency.
CHAPTER 6: Intimacy 151
CHAPTER 7: Community 179
The event--The group--Kindness--Griefing--Between virtual worlds--Beyond virtual worlds.
PART III: The Age of Techne 203
CHAPTER 8: Political Economy 205
Creationist capitalism--Money and labor--Property--Governance--Inequality--Platform and social form.
CHAPTER 9: The Virtual 237
The virtual human--Culture and the online--Simulation--Fiction and design--The massively multiple--Toward an anthropology of virtual worlds.
Works Cited 271
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