Tag Archives: Boellstorff

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

Continue reading Altman—Posthum/an/ous

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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.

Continue reading Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Golub—Being in the World (of Warcraft)

Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game

by Alex Golub

[Golub, Alex. “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, realism, and knowledge production in a massively multiplayer online game.” Anthropological Quarterly83, no. 1 (2010): 17-45.]

Points

  • an argument directly against Boellstorff, particularly on two fronts
    1. Immersion in virtual worlds is dependent on the realism depicted in the world—Golub says “no”
    2. virtual worlds are “places” that can be studied without reference to the offline users—Golub says “hell no”
  • Golub uses participant observation as part of a ‘middle-core’ raiding party in World of Warcraft (WoW) to deny both of these assertions; arguing that “the sociotechnical systems created and deployed by raiders ramify beyond the magic circle of World of Warcraft onto websites, Internet telephony servers, and actual-world gatherings” (20).
  • in his discussion of Boelstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life, he argues “that Boellstorff’s decision to exclude from his study the websites, blogs, and other online sites where Second Lifers interact is as problematic as his decision to bracket out their actual world lives” (24).
  • Further, scholarly treatments of the nature of virtual worlds “short-circuit attempts to theorize what makes virtual worlds compelling because they appeal to taken-for-granted notions of sensorial immersion” (26).
  • He sees immersion as being based on “commitment to the game,” and his raiding party increases this immersion/commitment by “decomposing the visually and aurally realistic world of Warcraft into its component parts” (34).
    • players use mods to parse the visual input into less aesthetically pleasing pieces of info: threat meters, DPS, health, “maximize their knowledge of the game state, replacing realistic three-dimensional imagery with user-friendly measurements of underlying variables in the game. [He] call[s] this process “decomposing the world” (35).
    • players use audio plugins to speak to each other over an audio channel that is not included in the game mechanics—they both plan raids and socialize on this channel, this increasing immersion with the use of outside tech
  • take-home—”an account which takes seriously both virtual worlds and the anthropological critique of locality should focus on three things…
    1. we must follow participants in virtual worlds across all segments of their life-worlds that are central to their biographies, not merely those that are virtual…
    2. we must understand the intertwined systems of action and meaning which become projects for people…
    3. we must understand the way those projects engender publics, both networked … or otherwise” (40-41). (reformatted by me)

Abstract

This paper discusses two main claims made about virtual worlds: first, that people become “immersed” in virtual worlds because of their sensorial realism, and second, because virtual worlds appear to be “places” they can be studied without reference to the lives that their inhabitants live in the actual world. This paper argues against both of these claims by using data from an ethnographic study of knowledge production in World of Warcraft. First, this data demonstrates that highly-committed (“immersed”) players of World of Warcraft make their interfaces less sensorially realistic (rather than more so) in order to obtain useable knowledge about the game world. In this case, immer- sion and sensorial realism may be inversely correlated. Second, their commitment to the game leads them to engage in knowledge-making activities outside of it. Drawing loosely on phenomenology and contemporary theorizations of Oceania, I argue that what makes games truly “real” for players is the extent to which they create collective projects of action that people care about, not their imitation of sensorial qualia. Additionally, I argue that while purely in-game research is methodologically legitimate, a full account of member’s lives must study the articulation of in-game and out-of-game worlds and trace people’s engagement with virtual worlds across multiple domains, some virtual and some actual. [Keywords: knowledge production, phenomenology, virtu- al worlds, World of Warcraft, Second Life, video games, raiding]” Continue reading Golub—Being in the World (of Warcraft)

Cool—The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic

The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic: Making an Ethnography of Networked Social Media Speak to Challenges of the Posthuman

by Jennifer Cool

[Cool, Jennifer. 2012. “The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic.” In Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Wesch, 11–32. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.]

Points

  • based on 10 years of participant observation with Cyborganic, a “group of San Francisco web geeks who combined online and face-to-face interaction in a conscious project to build community “on both sides of the screen”’ (11).
  • Finds that Cyborganic’s activities both online and onground (offline) are mutually co-constructed—
    • builds on the idea of colocation—several entities concurrently in the same place
    • using programs that reference a user’s emplacement onground users “display [their] presence across media” (20). She calls this “presence casting.
    • in that way, the users’ online and onground presences co-construct in a symbiotic relationship
  • Includes a detailed discussion of Katherine Hayles and the posthuman.

Great definition of media from Lisa Gitelman—”socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized colocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (Always Already New, 2006, pg 7)

Cyborganic Onground

Cyborganic Online

Continue reading Cool—The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic