ethnographia: tom boellstorff

Tom Bukowski aka Tom Boellstorff
 

Tom Boellstorff is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine and Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist. Somewhat belated I first heard of him when in 2006 his article A Ludicrous Discipline? Ethnography and Game Studies appeared in the newly founded journal “Games and Culture” [1(1):29-35]. Beyond his issues Indonesia, gender and queer studies, Tom does research on persistent state worlds, and even has an office in Second Life (SL): (SLurl:) Ethnographia. Among other things there you can get a notecard on what ethnography is all about, and another one with a great list of literature on research in virtual worlds. I will let speak Tom himself about his project, and his upcoming book “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human”, and quote him in full:
 

My second current research project concerns human culture in “virtual worlds,” three-dimensional, persistent “places” online where persons interact and forge new forms of selfhood and society. Throughout human history, technologies—from the wheel to the book and beyond—have shaped forms of identity, community, and society. This second research project originates in the realization that we are on the verge of one of the most massive technological transformations in human history, the creation of societies on the Internet. The social sciences and humanities have only begun to acknowledge the speed with which online societies are becoming taken for granted among the young and are spreading among all age groups and around the world. We must develop tools and theories for investigating these online societies and their increasingly fundamental impact on human relations.
 

In my research in the virtual world Second Life, I apply the same anthropological methods I have used in my work in Indonesia to date to examine virtual culture. In this virtual world my avatar (Tom Bukowski) has an office, “Ethnographia,” which you can visit within Second Life (it is located in Dowden, [SLurl:] ↑click here for a link). As Tom Bukowski, I study cybersociality in Second Life using participant observation, interviews, focus groups, and the analysis of texts ranging from newsletters to blogs. A key element of my approach is thus to pair the study of virtual worlds with “traditional” ethnographic methods, paying attention to moments of breakdown when the social relations of the virtual world in question resist ethnographic interpretation as generally understood. How is everything from identity and community to property, place, and politics shaped the fact that human beings can now live parts of their lives in virtual worlds? By showing how “traditional” anthropological methods can be used to study what otherwise appear to be radically different sites of social interaction, I demonstrate both the continuing relevance of anthropology and key issues in the emergence of virtual culture.
 

The first product of this research is my book “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human”, forthcoming with Princeton University Press. I am currently in the intitial phases of further research projects in Second Life.

Raymaker in Ethnographia
 

The notorious anthropologer Zephyrin Raymaker at the desk of anthropologist Tom Bukowski aka Tom Boellstorff. Note the readable copy of “Games and Culture” on the desk, and the cover of Tom’s book “Coming of Age in Second Life” behind me on the wall.
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