Coming of Age in Second Life

J8647 Over at Princeton University Press, Chapter 1 of Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human:

The online fieldsite of Coming of Age in Second Life might seem utterly different than Indonesia, but like my earlier work this book touches on broad issues concerning selfhood and society, and like my earlier work this book is a methodological experiment. Building upon a significant body of prior research on virtual worlds, I argue that ethnography holds great promise for illuminating culture online, but not because it is traditional or old-fashioned. Ethnography has a special role to play in studying virtual worlds because it has anticipated them. Virtual before the Internet existed, ethnography has always produced a kind of virtual knowledge. Borrowing a phrase from Malinowski, Clifford Geertz argued that the goal of ethnographic understanding is to achieve the “native’s point of view” (Geertz 1983). The quotation from Malinowski that started this book asked you to “imagine yourself ” in a new place (Malinowski 1922:4), to be virtually there. Representations of persons in virtual worlds are known as “avatars”; Malinowski’s injunction to “imagine yourself ” in an unfamiliar place underscores how anthropology has always been about avatarizing the self, standing virtually in the shoes (or on the shores) of another culture.