Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human

Princeton University Press
14

Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love--the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. Coming of Age in Second Life is the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar "Tom Bukowski," and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.

Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself.

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About the author

Tom Boellstorff is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of "A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia" and "The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia" (Princeton).

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Reviews

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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 22, 2010
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Pages
328
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ISBN
9781400829729
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Media Studies
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Celia Pearce
Play communities existed long before massively multiplayer online games; they have ranged from bridge clubs to sports leagues, from tabletop role-playing games to Civil War reenactments. With the emergence of digital networks, however, new varieties of adult play communities have appeared, most notably within online games and virtual worlds. Players in these networked worlds sometimes develop a sense of community that transcends the game itself.

In Communities of Play, game researcher and designer Celia Pearce explores emergent fan cultures in networked digital worlds -- actions by players that do not coincide with the intentions of the game's designers. Pearce looks in particular at the Uru Diaspora -- a group of players whose game, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, closed. These players (primarily baby boomers) immigrated into other worlds, self-identifying as "refugees"; relocated in There.com, they created a hybrid culture integrating aspects of their old world. Ostracized at first, they became community leaders. Pearce analyzes the properties of virtual worlds and looks at the ways design affects emergent behavior. She discusses the methodologies for studying online games, including a personal account of the sometimes messy process of ethnography. Pearce considers the "play turn" in culture and the advent of a participatory global playground enabled by networked digital games every bit as communal as the global village Marshall McLuhan saw united by television. Countering the ludological definition of play as unproductive and pointing to the long history of pre-digital play practices, Pearce argues that play can be a prelude to creativity.

Tom Boellstorff
Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love--the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. At the time of its initial publication in 2008, Coming of Age in Second Life was the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar "Tom Bukowski," and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.

Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself. Now with a new preface in which the author places his book in light of the most recent transformations in online culture, Coming of Age in Second Life remains the classic ethnography of virtual worlds.

Tom Boellstorff
In A Coincidence of Desires, Tom Boellstorff considers how interdisciplinary collaboration between anthropology and queer studies might enrich both fields. For more than a decade he has visited Indonesia, both as an anthropologist exploring gender and sexuality and as an activist involved in HIV prevention work. Drawing on these experiences, he provides several in-depth case studies, primarily concerning the lives of Indonesian men who term themselves gay (an Indonesian-language word that overlaps with, but does not correspond exactly to, the English word “gay”). These case studies put interdisciplinary research approaches into practice. They are preceded and followed by theoretical meditations on the most productive forms that collaborations between queer studies and anthropology might take. Boellstorff uses theories of time to ask how a model of “coincidence” might open up new possibilities for cooperation between the two disciplines. He also juxtaposes his own work with other scholars’ studies of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore to compare queer sexualities across Southeast Asia. In doing so, he asks how comparison might be understood as a queer project and how queerness might be understood as comparative.

The case studies contained in A Coincidence of Desires speak to questions about the relation of sexualities to nationalism, religion, and globalization. They include an examination of zines published by gay Indonesians; an analysis of bahasa gay—a slang spoken by gay Indonesians that is increasingly appropriated in Indonesian popular culture; and an exploration of the place of warias (roughly, “male-to-female transvestites”) within Indonesian society. Boellstorff also considers the tension between Islam and sexuality in gay Indonesians’ lives and a series of incidents in which groups of men, identified with Islamic fundamentalism, violently attacked gatherings of gay men. Collectively, these studies insist on the primacy of empirical investigation to any queer studies project that wishes to speak to the specificities of lived experience.

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