Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Arctic Cedar: In conducting my ethnographic research at actual Harbin, I never hid from residents that I was interested in writing an ethnography

Harbin ethnography:

... In terms of ethics, my ethnographic research focuses primarily on these kinds of cultural exchanges, or gift exchanges, at actual and virtual Harbin.]

In conducting my ethnographic research at actual Harbin, I never hid from Harbin residents (I was one) that I was interested in writing an ethnography, even in 2005, when I was a Harbin candidate and resident, and, as I recall, did mention the idea of writing such an ethnography about Harbin occasionally. I also never misrepresented this intention, or used any kind of alternative name while talking with actual Harbin visitors, with this ethnographic project in the back of my mind. In the virtual Harbins so far, for example, in OpenSim, or on the “Harbin Hot Springs :)” Facebook page, which I started, and which now has nearly 1,000 members (people clicked 'join' very quickly on their own, in contrast to “World University and School's” Facebook group, which has had a relatively unchanging, approximate 300 members for a long time), I've engaged in relatively little ethnographic interaction, which I would call participant observation. In OpenSim, I only went virtually onto my friend's computer in Massachusetts and built a box as a virtual harbin warm pool, and got into it, as if to soak. My friend, who was particularly helpful in setting up the somewhat buggy OpenSim at the time, and networking them, didn't come onto my machine in some coffeeshops in Middletown, California, near Harbin, where I was at the time we created both the virtual Harbin regions on my machine, and the very first, what I would call, virtual, Harbin warm pool on an OpenSim island on his machine. While I was able to operate my OpenSim avatar (not named Aphilo Aarde, which is my Second Life avatar's name) on his machine, he wasn't able to get onto my machine at the time we were networking and developing these 2 separate islands on his and my computer hard drives, - and we didn't develop this process further. Later my computer was stolen. In terms of the ethics of alternative identities either at actual Harbin or in virtual worlds (Boellstorff 2008:80), and participant observation, I've engaged a relatively straightforward approach. In Second Life, many end users have multiple avatars which would allow, for example, any anthropologist to engage a variety of identities / approaches to participant observation. Actual Harbin, itself, is fascinating because many residents have spiritual names, which are alternative names in many cases. Many of these names are Hindu in origin, and, as I see it, come out of a mostly Western interpretation of Eastern religious traditions, in the context of northern California and the 1960s; some of these Hindu-originating names may have been given them by spiritual teachers – possibly at Harbin. Therapy, workshops and spiritual teachings are important traditions at sometimes irreverent Harbin. While this might provide a kind of anonymity for residents and visitors over time, in the pool area, for example, such spiritual names are also an expression of vision, and even a kind of alternate, virtual reality, which such Hindu, New Age spiritual, and even most spiritual traditions offer, of something better, more real at least mentally, and possibly offering more possibilities for intimacy, especially at Harbin, in this ethnography's interpretation. In writing this ethnography, I generally have changed spiritual names of Harbinites, even if I know a person's 'pre-spiritual name,' to protect them. The implications for alternate identities both at actual Harbin and in virtual Harbin have improtant-ethnographic ethical implications, and for both ethnographer and people/interviewees/Harbinites, in this reading of virtuality and Harbin Hot Springs.

Ethical questions vis-a-vis virtual Harbin will emerge in my role as ethnographer in front of my own computer screen in relation to clothing-optionalness, for example, in virtual Harbin. ...

( - January 19, 2011)

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