Monday, November 29, 2010

Hylomantis lemur: Primary experience as an avatar-ethnographer studying virtual worlds has been as a student & instructor, Virtual, Representations

Harbin ethnography:

... In a sense, this book is a scientific anthropology, and envisioning – so, a science fiction (e.g. like Ursula Le Guin's “Always Coming Home” 1985) - which writes virtual ethnography, now in multimedia and virtual worlds.

In a sense my primary experience as an avatar-ethnographer studying and thinking about virtual worlds like Second Life and Open Simulator, with an interest in “The Making of Virtual Harbin as Ethnographic Field Site in Second Life and Open Simulator” (, has been as a student and instructor on Harvard's virtual island in Second Life, since 2006, and representationally. Here, I've absorbed my knowledge, ethnographically, of Second Life, in conversation and through experience by visiting virtual islands and sims, building with prims, and teaching a course about the information technology revolution vis-a-vis Professor Manuel Castells' work on the Network Society. So, my knowledge of the 'virtual' (e.g. “not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so” - Apple dictionary) here, vis-a-vis the virtual worlds of Second Life and Open Simulator, is shaped by my bodymind thinking, and in conversation with others – my biological and symbolic thinking software per the definition above - about what I'm learning, and then writing about it, which is a material or visible manifestation of thinking as software. Virtual, here in this book, then includes primate bodyminds thinking and engaging interactive representations in modernities. So, for example, I've visited holodecks in Second Life with realistic photo landscape montages that make my avatar appear cartoon-esque. I've floated in hot air balloons out of valleys, and over mountains, and to the sea, in the Gardens of Bliss, a 'build' which has been since taken down. I've visited islands for instruction in virtual building with prims (primitives). In addition to participating in the free, open, Harvard course “CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion” (web site: in 2006 on Harvard's Berkman Island (for which some Harvard Law students received credit), as an at-large participant, I've participated as a juror in a mock Burning Man trial (2007?) for a Harvard Law class (transcript: for pedagogical purposes, where the teacher of the CyberOne course in 2006, Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson, played the role of the judge. And I've participated in conversations imagining Second Life as a separate nation state, with its own laws and tax advantages, wondering in what ways it could be tax havens, Utopias or universities. And I've attended talks where the U.S. government has looked at questions of taxing the Second Life economy. And I've not only taught on a number of virtual islands, but also thought of virtual islands in Second Life and Open Simulator as great, future classrooms for World University and School ( – like Wikipedia with MIT Open Course Ware) in all 3,000-8,000 languages, and as medical and law schools. In a related vein, see this hospital in Second Life: AND In addition, I've conceived of ways in which virtual worlds such as Second Life and Open Simulator, like the virtual world of Croquet, could become chemistry or physics' labs (see San Francisco's Exploratorium Second Life exhibits: I've also thought of how such virtual worlds could be the basis for a topographically accurate earth where an avatar could visit virtually UNESCO World Heritage sites, all the museums in the world, all of the oceans, the stars, the universe and the cosmos, as well as become the site for rigorous, scientific experiments, and why this doesn't already exist in great measure. In many ways, financial resources have been the limiting factor for developing these thus far. As my own avatar-ethnographer informant, all of these contribute reflexively and subjectively to my understanding of the 'virtual,' as well as to how I understand virtual worlds ethnographically. Objectivity, vis-a-vis human interaction, ethnographically, and the milieu, context, or fabric of life, such as what occurs at actual Harbin, and now in virtual Harbin, is mediated here, by representations, multimedia virtual worlds, digital technologies, as well as language, rendering impartiality problematic. The avatar-ethnographer studying virtual Harbin's counterculture, created by avatars who are emergently making it out of prims, and through conversation and communication, engages anthropological method, as social science, in new, virtual ways, as representations.

Neither an objective nor a totalizing understanding of actual and virtual Harbins, do I as avatar-ethnographer have, and my goals in developing methods to study actual and virtual Harbin, ethnographically, do not include these goals or aims. ...

( - November 29, 2010)

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