Tag Archives: Boellstorff

Nardi – My Life as a Night Elf Priest

My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft [Prologue & Chapter 2]

by Bonnie A. Nardi

[ Nardi, Bonnie. 2010. My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. University of Michigan Press ]

Points & Quotes:

“I believe World of Warcraft is an exemplar of a new means of forming and sustaining human relationships and collaborations through digital technology.” (5)

Aims:

My Life As a Night Elf Priest

  1. “The first aim of the book is to develop an argument about World of Warcraft that examines play as active aesthetic experience, drawing on activity theory (Leontiev 1974) and the work of philosopher John Dewey. […]
  2. “Understanding play in its contemporary digital manifestations is a second aim of the book. I argue that video games such as WoW are a new visual-performative medium enabled, and strongly shaped, by the capacities of digital technology, in particular the execution of digital rules powerful enough to call forth complex worlds of activity. […]
  3. “A third aim of the book is ethnographic reportage—interpreting experiences of playing World of Warcraft for those who will never play but wish to understand something of the role of video games in our culture.” (6-7)

Cool Thoughts about Ethnography

“Unlike research in most academic disciplines, where investigation proceeds according to a scientific procedure involving hypothesis generation and testing, ethnography moves in a “go with the flow” pattern that attempts to follow the interesting and the unexpected as they are encountered in the field.” (27)

Quote from Marylin Strathern:

“Ethnography is . . . the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the researcher is aware of at the time of collection . . . Rather than devising research protocols that will purify the data in advance of analysis, the anthropologist embarks on a participatory exercise which yields materials for which analytical protocols are often devised after the fact. (2004)” (28)

Marilyn Strathern, Partial Connections, 2004

Specifically Digital Ethnography:

“Most anthropological fieldwork requires a budget for foreign travel and the necessity to leave home. It often requires living under difficult circumstances. The cost of entering a virtual world is very low—in the case of World of Warcraft 50 dollars for the game CDs and 14 dollars a month for the subscription. No research grants or struggles with a foreign language were necessary to initiate the research. Nor was there a need to cope with disturbing food, large insects, filth, dangerous diseases, or homesickness. My entry point to the field site was a computer on my dining room table where I sat in a comfortable chair and played for many hours. And yet this fieldwork was nearly as immersive as the fieldwork I conducted for my postdoctoral research in Western Samoa or Papua New Guinea, where I accompanied my husband for his doctoral research. I typically played about 20 hours a week. I read fewer novels and slept a bit less. In addition to game play, I read my guild’s website nearly every day and spent considerable time reading about World of Warcraft on the Internet.” (29)

However…

“Most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face; I find I learn more when I sit down with someone for an unhurried conversation.” (30)

“Many guild members were parents with small children. It was not unusual for game play to stop as a player settled an infant who had awakened or took time out to bandage a skinned knee. Part of the guild ethos was that members had real lives, so such actions were to be tolerated politely and patiently.” (33)

“One difference in studying WoW was that the research inclined toward the participant end of participant-observation. I learned to play the game well enough to participate in a raiding guild. I looked just like any other player. For many practical purposes, I was just another player. I could not have studied raiding guilds without playing as well as at least an average player and fully participating in raids. By contrast, when I was walking around villages in Papua New Guinea or Western Samoa, I was obviously an outsider whose identity required explanation.” (34)

“Blending in, however, is not necessarily characteristic of research in virtual worlds; it does not distinctly identify “digital ethnography.” In research I conducted in Second Life with IBM, my participation as a researcher was made clear to others to the point of having a halo over my character’s head to identify my special status. Boellstorff (2008) and Pearce (2009) were identified as researchers in the virtual worlds they studied. It may be more natural to set up shop as an anthropologist in non-game worlds; in a game world, the overwhelming need to play dominates interaction much of the time.” (35)

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Gershon – The Breakup 2.0

The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

by Ilana Gershon

[Gershon, Ilana. 2010. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, Cornell University Press]

Points & Quotes:

Introduction

“Breaking up face-to-face is widely considered the ideal way to end a relationship. Most people told me that breaking up through the wrong medium can signal to others the initiator’s cowardice, lack of respect, callousness, or indifference. People’s ideas about the medium shape the ways that medium will deliver a message. No matter what is actually said, the medium becomes part of what is being communicated. … When you are breaking up, the medium is part of the message.” (3)

Media ideologies are a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media.” (3)

“Sometimes what is important about a medium is how much it resembles another medium—like e-mail and letters for college students. Sometimes what is important is how distinct the medium is from other media—like e-mail and letters for me. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin use the term “remediation” to describe the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (1999, 28).” (5)

“People don’t concoct their media ideologies on their own; they develop their beliefs about media and ways of using media within idioms of practice. By idioms of practice, I mean that people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other…
Idioms of practice emerge out of collective discussions and shared practices. Often the implicit intuitions don’t become apparent until someone violates an expectation—perhaps by breaking up using the wrong medium” (6)

“To sum up, remediation, different media ideologies, different idioms of practice—all these analytical concepts point to how people are experiencing these media as new media.” (9)

“People are still in the process of figuring out the social rules that might govern how to use these technologies. They are also working out how using a particular medium might affect the message sent through that medium. In asking “what makes new media new?” I am making a distinction between the fact of newness and the ways in which people understand and experience the newness of technology.” (10)

“Daniel Miller and Donald Slater are ethnographers of the Internet who warn scholars not to be the ones deciding what counts as virtual. Virtual communication, they argue, is ‘a social accomplishment’ that sometimes accompanies a medium such as the Internet, but does not invariably do so (Miller and Slater 2000, 6). (13)

“I soon realized that for the people I interviewed, Facebook, video chats, or instant messaging may be done through a computer screen, but they are not virtual. That is to say, these media are not cyberrealms distinct from other interactions, but rather Facebook communication is inextricably intertwined with every other way that they communicate. They did not understand information or meaning conveyed through Facebook or instant messaging to be “virtual,” while other forms of communication conveyed “real” information or meaning.
Practically, this means that for those I interviewed, Facebook communication is but one among many ways of communicating with others. Choosing to communicate by Facebook is almost always a choice that is understood not in terms of a choice between real communication and virtual communication but rather as a choice between Facebook, phone, e-mail, instant message, or in-person communication.” (13-14)

Chapter One

“As mentioned in the introduction, people’s media ideologies—their beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication—makes a personal e-mail account different from a work e-mail account, or a text message different from a phone call.” (18)

Second-order information refers to the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.” (18)

“Turning to the media used is just an extension of a U.S. tendency to discuss breakups by describing the way breakups took place.” (23)

“The kind of informality people agree to attribute to a particular medium, such as texting, will shape when it is appropriate to use that medium. While text messages might be too informal for a breakup, they often had the right level of informality for starting to flirt with someone. Women insisted to me that if they met someone who was interested in them, they would exchange phone numbers, but only to text each other. Calling would express too much interest; calling would be too forward a move. But texting was considered to carry low enough stakes that one could begin an exchange with the right level of ambiguity, unclear whether the exchange is about friendship or desire.” (23-24)

I have been describing some of the media ideologies at play when people break up with each other (and there are many more), in part to clarify what it means to analyze new media from an ethnographic or anthropological perspective. I could discuss the ways I think a medium functions—whether texting ensures more of an immediate answer than instant messaging or e-mail, and how that might affect a breakup—but that would be an interpretation based on my own assumptions and experiences with technology. People develop understandings of how media functions based on their own practices and conversations they have with the people they know, as well as the stories they hear and see through the media.” (32)

one should not presume to know the media ideologies that accompany a particular technology in advance without asking a person many questions to determine what his or her media ideologies and practices are.” (32)

“People always mentioned which medium was used whenever they recounted a conversation. As people of all ages told me breakup stories, they tended to tell me not only the sequence of events, who said what and when, but they also always mentioned the media in which each conversation or message took place.” (34)

“once I started paying attention, it became clear that mentioning the medium is a relatively typical feature of contemporary American breakup narratives.” (35)

“I want to suggest that because people don’t share the same media ideologies, especially about new media, part of what someone is doing by marking every medium in their story is tracing the detective work they had to do to determine which genre of story this narrative was going to become as it unfolded.” (38)

Idioms of Practice: “Groups of friends, classes, workers in an office will develop together their own ways of using media to communicate with each other.” (39)

“Two main reasons emerged from the interviews to explain why there are so many idioms of practice with new media right now, why people keep discovering that there isn’t a general consensus…

  • First, because these are new media, people haven’t had time to develop a widespread consensus about how to use a medium, especially for relatively rare communicative tasks such as breaking up
  • Second, communicating with these new media can present social dilemmas that people have to solve—and will often try to figure out with their friends.” (39-40 bullets added)

How people understand the media they use shapes the ways they will use it. As a result, determining people’s media ideologies is crucial when you are trying to figure out the ways that people communicate through different technologies. Often, people take for granted their own assumptions about how a medium shapes the information transmitted. They don’t always realize that their way of using communicative technology is but one of many ways, that what they focus on as important features of a medium may not be generally held to be the important features.” (48)

[Looking forward to chapter 2] …”To understand other people’s media ideologies, one has to figure out two primary aspects. First, what structures of that particular medium matter for people, and when do those structures matter? …
Second, people understand a particular medium only in the con- text of other media.” (49)

Terms:

Media Ideologies—a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media
[For a parallel definition of language ideologies, see Silverstein 1979, 193]

Idioms of Practice—people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other

remediation—the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (from Bolter & Grusin 1999, 28)

Second-order information—the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.
This is part, but only part, of what linguistic anthropologists have called metapragmatics (see Silverstein 2001).

Selected Sources:

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Miller, Daniel, and Don Slater. 2000. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology.” In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and Levels, edited by Paul Clyne, William Hanks, and Carol Hofbauer, 193–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Silverstein, Michael. 2001. “The Limits of Awareness.” In Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 382–401. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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Horst & Miller – The Digital and the Human

The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology

by Heather Horst & Daniel Miller

[Horst, Heather A., and Daniel Miller. 2012. “The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology.” In Digital Anthropology, 3–35. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.]

Points:

Six main principles

  1. The first principle is that the digital itself intensifies the dialectical nature of culture
  2. Our second principle suggests that humanity is not one iota more mediated by the rise of the digital
  3. The commitment to holism, the foundation of anthropological perspectives on humanity, represents a third principle
  4. The fourth principle reasserts the importance of cultural relativism and the global nature of our encounter with the digital
  5. The fifth principle is concerned with the essential ambiguity of digital culture with regard to its increasing openness and closure
  6. Our final principle acknowledges the materiality of digital worlds, which are neither more nor less material than the worlds that preceded them

“The primary point of this introduction, and the emergence of digital anthropology as a subfield more generally, is in resolute opposition to all approaches that imply that becoming digital has either rendered us less human, less authentic or more mediated. Not only are we just as human within the digital world, the digital also provides many new opportunities for anthropology to help us understand what it means to be human” (13).

“In effect, the digital is producing too much culture, which, because we cannot manage and engage with it, renders us thereby superficial or shallow or alienated” (15).

“At the level of abstraction, there are grounds for thinking we have reached rock bottom; there can be nothing more basic and abstract than binary bits, the difference between 0 and 1. At the other end of the scale, it is already clear that the digital far outstrips mere commoditization in its ability to proliferate difference” (16).

“Digital anthropology fails to the degree it makes the nondigital world appear in retrospect as unmediated and unframed. One of the reasons digital studies have often taken quite the opposite course has been the continued use of the term virtual, with its implied contrast with the real” (22).

“Rather than seeing predigital worlds as less mediated, we need to study how the rise of digital technologies has created the illusion that they were” (23).

“Social science had demonstrated how the real world was virtual long before we came to realize how the virtual world is real” (24).

“the term real must be regarded as colloquial and not epistemological. it should be clear that we are not more mediated. We are equally human in each of the different and diverse arenas of framed behaviour within which we live” (24).

“Materiality is thus bedrock for digital anthropology, and this is true in several distinct ways, of which three are of prime importance. First, there is the materiality of digital infrastructure and technology. Second, there is the materiality of digital content, and, third, there is the materiality of digital context” (34).

“We would therefore suggest that the key to digital anthropology, and perhaps to the future of anthropology itself, is, in part, the study of how things become rapidly mundane. What we experience is not a technology per se but an immediately cultural inflected genre of usage” (38).

Being human is a cultural and normative concept. As our second principle showed, it is our definition of being human that mediates what the technology is, not the other way around” (38).

“The faster the trajectory of cultural change, the more relevant the anthropologist, because there is absolutely no sign that the changes in technology are outstripping the human capacity to regard things as normative” (39).

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Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet 

graduate thesis by Eric Stephen Altman

[Altman, Eric Stephen. 2010. “Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet.” Thesis, Appalachian State University.]

Points

  • based mostly on online written materials, as well as 10 interviews
  • an English department MA thesis
  • looks at Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin as three fandoms with three similar aspects
    1. emphasize an online avatar that represents identity to members
    2. engages in fan fiction
    3. has a sexual, fetishistic component as a prominent feature
      • “The object of this thesis is to engage in and describe three different communities that engage in community behavior that deviates from and challenges mainstream culture. Each of these communities is primarily based on the Internet and their members consistently identify with an identity that is not human. These communities often express discontentment with their human body or existence and instead idealize the conception of another state of existence. Interestingly enough, many members justify their beliefs by stating that they must have once been the creature that they identity with so, believing their past lives to be the one where they were once happy and accepted, as opposed to the sham of their human existence” (7).

By describing Otherkin as a fandom, Altman misses the boat completely

  • the piece references the furry subculture along with Otherkin & Otakukin as if they were comparable levels of identity
    • the problem= Furries identify with a non-human entity; Otherkin/Otakukin identify as a non-human entity
    • this leads the author to treat Otherkin identity as a fundamentally fictional construct, which is not the case to Otherkin
    • “Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction” (33).

Altman gets close to describing Otherkin belief as a valid religion-like system by linking fandoms to mythology and religious structure:

  • “The devotion of fandoms to media is a new kind of mythology. Fans have the opportunity to adhere themselves to a system of fundamental guidelines that appeal to them, and these moral and societal edicts are transmitted through the narratives that are crafted by media and literature. The heroes and saints of religion are transmitted within the narrative of popular culture, and archetypes of mythology continue to define the way in which the viewer experiencing the media understands characters … A key difference between fandoms and religions is that fandoms are inherently outside of cultural hegemony” (41).

But then falls prey to the fandom construct by viewing Otherkin personal histories and narratives of awakening as genres of fan fiction—governed by rules, but completely fictional:

  • “if I were to endeavor to make a persona in the Otherkin community, I would have the nearly limitless horizons of fantasy literature and media from which to draw inspiration. I could easily craft a creature that defies all logical sense, but under the loose framework of fantasy, could indeed be completely plausible; if I establish enough background and history then my idea could be “believable” within the context of the fan community” (63).

Since the Otherkin belief system is based around the cultural productions of a fandom, it is an alternative ontological choice the members have made rather than a true belief system

  • “trappings of humanity isn’t so much an indication of the fandom’s sanity so much as a critique of a world that discarded them; humanity hasn’t worked, and so therefore the alternatives are explored” (89).
  • This is not necessarily true or false, but the fact that Altman starts from the position of a fandom precludes any exploration of ontological possibilities and does not take the participants of his research seriously.

Abstract

The Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin are Internet fan subcultures whose members personally identify with non-human beings, such as animals, creatures of fantasy, or cartoon characters. I analyze several different forms of expression that the fandoms utilize to define themselves against the human world. These are generally narrative in execution, and the conglomeration of these texts provides the communities with a concrete ontology. Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction. Through the use of the mutability of Internet performance and presentation of self-hood, the groups are able to present themselves as possessing the traits of previous, non-human lives; on the Internet, the members are post-human. The members no longer need to suffer through the society of humans around them: they can reclaim their past lives and live out a posthum/an/ous existence

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Hine—Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

by Christine Hine

[Hine, Christine. 2008. “Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances.” The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods, 257–70.]

Points

  • Great overview of the field of digital/virtual ethnography from nascence to 2008:
    • Gibson 84, Rheingold 93, Baym 94, Correll 95, Reid 94, Markham 98, Silver 00, Kendall 02, Boellstorff 06, boyd & Heer 06, etc
  • outlines three overlapping best practices
    1. participant observation
      • Much like traditional ethnography a digital ethnographer must actively participate in online activities, which implies a particular type of reflexivity in the case of the digital study:
      • “The use of the same medium to interact with subjects as forms the topic of the research places a particular emphasis on reflexivity: as Hine (2000: 65) argues, virtual ethnography is ‘ethnography in, of and through the virtual'” (262).
    2. presence
      • Lurking is easy online, and can generate positive results, but can not be taken as ethnography itself. The experience of the medium itself is a part of the participant aspect of the study:
      • “Even an asynchronous message board has its own version of ‘real time’ … an ethnographer who simply lurked without ever participating would miss the experiential knowledge that comes from feeling what it is like to post a message and wait to see if it will ever receive a reply” (262-63).
    3. skill
      • A certain amount of skill navigating the medium is necessary to interact with interlocutors adequately, not unlike learning the local language. This is especially true when researching in game worlds:
      • “Some naivety with the technology in question can be an asset in terms of questioning the taken-for-granted, but this can be an epistemological luxury when simply interacting with people and keeping up with the pace of game play requires an almost instinctive familiarity with game controls” (263).
  • issues of authenticity, trust, and ethics
    1. there is no real way of proving who anyone is when interacting online, however, is this really that different offline?
    2. Sometimes the onus is on the researcher to prove their legitimacy
      •  university email addresses and personal websites always help here
    3. ethical guidelines should be followed to IRB standards just like an offline study, with added levels of protection
      • Since online content (including text-based social interaction) is mostly searchable, anonymity becomes even more important

Abstract

This chapter begins with a review of the development of virtual ethnography as applied to online settings. The idea of the online community is explored, focusing on the involvement of virtual ethnography in establishing the existence of rich and complex online social formations. The next section then focuses on some of the lessons learnt from these experiences, looking at some emergent practices of online ethnography and the dilemmas that online ethnographers have faced. Specific issues include ethnographic presence in online settings, questions of authenticity and trust, the ethics of online ethnography, and the definition of field sites in relation to the online/offline boundary. A concluding section notes the relationship of virtual ethnography with other ethnographic traditions, questioning the extent to which there is any radical methodological innovation in the emerging modes of virtual ethnography Continue reading Hine—Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web

by John Postill and Sarah Pink

[Postill, John, and Sarah Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 145 (November).]

Points

  • great model for Internet ethnography
  • based on fieldwork both on and offline among political activists in Barcelona
  • Advances a new approach to Internet ethnography, moving away from a concept of online community, and toward concepts of routine, movement, and sociality.
    • routine (based on Postill’s fieldwork) five overlapping sub-practices
      1. catching-up— withresearch-related developments through Twitter, Facebook and face-to-face encounters and, to a lesser extent, via email, mailing lists, Google alerts, news feeds and mobile phone exchanges” (128).
      2. sharing—”The technical ease with which users habitually share news and other information conceals the fact that digital sharing is a skilled, embodied activity that the researcher must learn to perfect over time” (128).
      3. exploring—”often by following links provided in tweets. These explorations can end in a quick glance at a web page or in longer, more meandering explorations of a potential research site” (129).
      4. interacting—”a range of different forms and intensities, from an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook to a long series of face-to-face, mobile and online encounters” (129).
      5. archiving— [tagging, bogs, public/private] raises questions about the changing nature of fieldnotes in the digital era. One intriguing question is how extensive tagging may shape the fieldwork process” (129).
    • movement—online social activity is not relegated to a single platform. Groups will interact on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr simultaneously, so following the movement of the group from one platform to the next through hashtags and hyperlinks is an important aspect in studying how social systems really work on the Internet.
    • sociality—Internet activity can not be thought of as occurring within a bounded area. This need for open edges is why Postill and Pink reject the use of “community” as a descriptor: it brings with it implications of spatial boundedness and the creation of a single social unit. Instead, they look at the “sociality” of individual actors aggregated across boundaries (platform to platform; online to IRL) to form a picture of the movement discussed above. Unlike a community, the group has no clear edges and is in constant motion.
  • BIG take away quote: “In existing literatures, a messy web has been ordered through concepts such as community, culture and network. However, in the context of doing social media ethnography, a different approach is needed. A plural concept of sociality that allows us to focus on the qualities of relatedness in online and offline relationships offers a better way of understanding how social media practices are implicated in the constitution of social groups, and the practices in which they engage together. Understanding the work of the social media ethnographer as mobile is important for gaining a sense of the shifting intensities of the social media landscape as it emerges online, but also as it is interwoven with offline activities. It is important to be able to see how the researcher’s online movement is both routine and subject to her or him being ‘carried’ through social media environments (e.g. through Twitter hashtags or Facebook threads), and becoming part of both digital and offline crowds in real, experiential ways” (132).

ethnographic place—”drawing on the work of Massey (2005) and Ingold (2008), are constituted through the emergent relations between things and processes. They are not bounded territories or groups/communities. Rather, they are clusters or intensities of things of which both localities and socialities are elements” (124).

Abstract

Social media practices and technologies are often part of how ethnographic research participants navigate their wider social, material and technological worlds, and are equally part of ethnographic practice. This creates the need to consider how emergent forms of social media-driven ethnographic practice might be understood theoretically and methodologically. In this article, we respond critically to existing literatures concerning the nature of the internet as an ethnographic site by suggesting how concepts of routine, movement and sociality enable us to understand the making of social media ethnography knowledge and places.

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