Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rocky Mountains: Also interested in questions of personhood itself, about which avatar use in a virtual world opens new areas of inquiry, The Subject

Harbin ethnography:

... What programmers, script writers, and even new virtual world experiences – not Second Life and Open Simulator, for example - will emerge?

In ethnographically examining the idea of the virtual Harbinite (vis-a-vis the posthuman) in relation to Harbin folks (vis-a-vis the human), I'm also interested in questions of personhood itself, about which avatar use in a virtual world opens new areas of inquiry (Boellstorff 2008: 28). Different end users can use the same avatar in-world, so that the same avatar can be a proxy for different personalities, another expression of the posthuman. Actual Harbin personalities, with the freedom there, and as a kind of hot springs' hippie retreat center / church / ashram / spiritual center, with clothing-optional pools, gives form to fascinating expressions of personality, and aspects of 'the human.' While I refer to the posthuman as new syntheses, and new possibilities, of humanness - often language- and communication-related - due to digital, information technologies, in the example above, the posthuman can also refer to ways in which “technology can enable us to overcome the limitations of the human form” (Nayar 2004:71; Foster 2005:xi). While thousands of years of Hindu and Buddhist practice, for example, may have given form to related technologies for new syntheses of humanness, in the form of texts and paintings (e.g. avatars, ideas and images), for example, these older practices that could come under the rubric of posthuman aren't mediated digitally. The term posthuman is also problematic in many ways for an anthropologist whose disciplinary focus is 'the human' (Rabinow 2003). For one, “The notion of the posthuman conflates the human with the subject of liberal humanism, and thus with disciplinary debates in the humanities” (Boellstorff 2008: 28). In concordance with Boellstorff, the too-narrow term posthuman doesn't allow for the variability of human experience, of which it is part. And the digital distinction which it possibly highlights, vis-a-vis humans/avatars, may better be experienced in the term 'digital representational figures.' Virtual Harbinites in virtual Harbin here become representations of actual Harbinites, if they have visited Harbin. Those virtual Harbin folks who have never visited actual Harbin become 'virtual, floating Harbinites' in some senses in this conceptualization of the human, in digital anthropology studies. They are all expressions of people, i.e. humans, at Harbin, in which this ethnography is particularly interested, ethnographically.

This actual / virtual ethnography, however, highlights some salient distinctions between Harbin folks and virtual Harbinites, both those who have visited actual Harbin, and those who know Harbin only virtually. ...

(http://scott-macleod.blogspot.com/2010/07/rocky-mountains-also-interested-in.html - July 20, 2010)

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