Thursday, December 9, 2010

White-crowned pigeon: Uniqueness of Harbin Hot Springs, Virtual Worlds, the Virtual, and such a comparison, Novel participant observation methods

Harbin ethnography:

... And, in generating a virtual Harbin as ethnographic field site, this actual / virtual ethnography will seek to examine questions of social science, participant-observation replicability, or at least in-world, countercultural 'parallelisms.'

Not only is actual Harbin Hot Springs in northern California singular and unique, virtual worlds are as well; and virtual Harbin, in comparison with actual Harbin, can generate novel, participant observation methods, too, in the context of the discipline of anthropology. While anthropology has a long history of focusing on 'the other,' on what can seem exotic, and even on the sensational, at times, participant-observation is particularly suited to studying singularity, uniqueness and particularity (e.g. Kopytoff), and is also particularly focused on learning about out the daily, now both actually and virtually. And in avatar-ethnography, for example, new forms of mutual learning through participant-observation emerge. In many ways, Tom Boellstorff's book “Coming of Age in Second Life” is a seminal exploration of avatar-ethnography, although he neither explicitly calls it this, nor does he examine in too much detail how participant observation in virtual worlds differs from actual participant observation as method, - in ways made possible, for example, by this actual / virtual Harbin ethnography, which compares the same on-the-ground site with a virtual one. When co-creating a virtual world such as virtual Harbin, for comparison with actual Harbin today, which emerged most recently from a bunch of hippies coming through the Harbin gate to play in the 60s and 70s, questions about counterculture are central. Both the exceptional and the quotidian are significant in this ethnography, as a form of understanding culture vis-a-vis the actual and the virtual. In virtual Harbin, some avatars will excel at building, others at artistic and creative processes, others at virtual Watsu, or scripting subtle, fluid movements, for example, in different ways from what happens in the waters of actual Harbin. And actual Harbin residents, and visitors, will also express or explore Harbin's 'culture,' in their own unique ways, especially informed by a kind of hippie agency, which all flows together somewhat harmoniously at actual Harbin as place. While ethnographic methods focus on daily life, as expressions of culture, here both virtually and actually, this ethnography attempts to develop methods focusing both on the banal and what's unique and freeing at Harbin, both virtually and actually. In explicitly focusing on novelty of place, as well as on novelty of method vis-a-vis the actual and virtual, actual and virtual Harbin, and ethnography itself, this anthropological book articulates a long, intellectual tradition of ethnographic, participant observation in novel ways.

To explicate ways in which talking with a Harbin resident can help shed light on Harbin's counterculture, compare and contrast an actual face-to-face interview and interaction, with a digital interview and interaction in the virtual Harbin pool area in Second Life. ...

( - December 9, 2010)

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