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Angelique LaFollette wrote:

Best way to find out is to read it yourself, and see what you get out of it.


 

 ^ This.

Go to your local library, sit down and start reading it.  If 15 minutes pass without you looking up then you might want to consider taking it home. :smileywink:

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I'm a huge anthropology geek, but I wouldn't want to read this book. I really don't see what an anthropologist would want to study in SL (unlike, say, a psychologist). At this point, there is nothing that deserves the label "culture" in so-called virtual worlds. SL is but a pastime for people from all over the globe, without homogenous cultural or linguistic roots, and without any aspect of human biology.

Mr. Boellstorf might as well live among and research the "natives" in World of Warcraft, and attempt to study the culture of orcs and night elves :) In my opinion, this is nothing but an attempt to cash in on an MMO phenomenon that has a certain freakish curiosity value because the publishers labeled it a virtual world and deny that it's just a game. 

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Ishtara Rothschild wrote:

I'm a huge anthropology geek, but I wouldn't want to read this book. I really don't see what an anthropologist would want to study in SL (unlike, say, a psychologist). At this point, there is nothing that deserves the label "culture" in so-called virtual worlds. SL is but a pastime for people from all over the globe, without homogenous cultural or linguistic roots, and without any aspect of human biology.

Mr. Boellstorf might as well live among and research the "natives" in World of Warcraft, and attempt to study the culture of orcs and night elves
:)
In my opinion, this is nothing but an attempt to cash in on an MMO phenomenon that has a certain freakish curiosity value because the publishers labeled it a virtual world and deny that it's just a game. 

Thanks for your input Ishtara.;)

I dunno, tho. I read the reviews on Amazon.com and most were very favorable. The only real criticisms were that it was too academic for those readers' tastes. I also found out that there have been several books written, by psychologists, sociologists, and others, about virtual worlds in general and SL in particular. I saw Coming of Age in SL in the latest Labyrinth catalog & I think I may order it from there, as it's only $15 from Labrynth as opposed to $21 from Amazon. Whether I finish reading it or not remains to be seen but seems like Boellstorff might offer insight on many of the themes explored in these very fora. I'll let ya know...

Jeanne

Edit: Ordered it for $12 as "like new" paperback.

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Oh, I'm sure that the text is sufficiently academic, but I'm not so sure that SL warrants this kind of academic attention and in-depth analysis. MMOs, virtual worlds and other internet phenomena are rapidly changing and overall pretty shortlived, much unlike the biological and cultural aspects of human nature that anthropologists usually concern themselves with. I mean, one could write entire books about the IRC culture or the history of Pacman, but a side note would suffice imho.

ETA: Besides, I agree with Randall (for once) that SL is best experienced firsthand and not just read about :)

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Ishtara Rothschild wrote:

I'm a huge anthropology geek, but I wouldn't want to read this book. I really don't see what an anthropologist would want to study in SL (unlike, say, a psychologist). At this point, there is nothing that deserves the label "culture" in so-called virtual worlds. SL is but a pastime for people from all over the globe, without homogenous cultural or linguistic roots, and without any aspect of human biology.

Mr. Boellstorf might as well live among and research the "natives" in World of Warcraft, and attempt to study the culture of orcs and night elves
:)
In my opinion, this is nothing but an attempt to cash in on an MMO phenomenon that has a certain freakish curiosity value because the publishers labeled it a virtual world and deny that it's just a game. 

I'm inclined to agree (other than on whether or not 'it's just a game':smileywink:). I think there might possibly be sociological lessons to be learned from SL but even that's pretty debatable. Is the tolerance most SL'ers have for other cultures and lifestyles learned there, or something that the sort of people who are intrigued by SL would bring with them? I personally think more the latter than the former, but I still think the tolerance that SL provides does carry over to RL. Difficult thing to measure.

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I'm going to disagree iwth Ishy here, as culture has little to do with biology, and everything to do with interaction and environment.... I don't think the non-homogenous backgrounds of of SL RL residents make it less interesting, but rather more... you get to see a new culture being born from the synthesis of various conflicting cultures with the ties that bind each and the agreeded upon norms giving birth to a completely new culture based on the environment. it might even be interesting to know how that beleeds back out to RL culture through those same users.

I find most anthropology a bit dull, mostly because it's just defining a culture from a specific (and usually external) viewpoint that often fails to capture the sense and flow of that cultures interactions. it's also focus mostly on what already is, or occasionally what was, but never seems to capture the direction it's heading, or what influesnces chaange is having upon it.

to me it's the difference between watching a star as it's being born, and watching one that been stable for hundreds of years.... the first you never know how the story will end, the second is mostly just a list of statistics... my interest lies in comparative difference, and excitement lies in seeing those differences in a single object of study that's actively evolving.

 

never read the book, though I think Sy's suggestion is wonderful. (and even if it's dry and boring, if the topic holds meaning for you, then it's usually worth bearing through if the premise is sound and the conclusions logical)

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Void Singer wrote:

...culture has little to do with biology...

I don't understand this statement. How can you have a culture without an underlying biology? To my mind, culture is a biological phenomenon. Can you describe a nonbiological culture? Maybe robots will someday develop a nonbiological culture but that hasn't happened yet.

Jeanne

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because culture is the difference between two populations, given effectively the same biology. and the number one influence of that is environment. to make an analogy into perspective, both graphite and diamonds are made from carbon, but are unique from each other in important ways. their difference is in how the carbon interacts...  just like material science is concerned not with the base components, but their interactions, anthropology is concerned not with the biology of the people involved, but how those people interact.

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Void Singer wrote:

because culture is the difference between two populations, given effectively the same biology. and the number one influence of that is environment. to make an analogy into perspective, both graphite and diamonds are made from carbon, but are unique from each other in important ways. their difference is in how the carbon interacts...  just like material science is concerned not with the base components, but their interactions, anthropology is concerned not with the biology of the people involved, but how those people interact.

But aren't those populations comprised of biological organisms, and aren't biotic components of the environment at least as important as abiotic components? Haven't sociobiological and behavioral ecology approaches to the study of the interactions between populations you describe, largely superceded classic cultural anthropological approaches? I ask because I don't really know. Isn't my field..

Jeanne

 

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Anthropologists don't view culture as separate from biology and genetics. Although some specialize in socio-cultural or linguistic anthropology, human evolutionary biology and -psychology is still the main field of anthropological research. Culture and and language is always seen in context with the environment and our genetic adaptation to it, since gene-culture co-evolution renders these aspects inseparable.

For that reason, anthropology is probably the most holistic field of the natural and social sciences. It combines evolutionary biology, paleobiology, ethology (or behavioral psychology), evolutionary psychology, genetics, history, sociology, neurology, linguistics, archaeology, and even comparative mythology in one single, anthropocentric science that mostly tries to answer questions about our past, but also makes predictions as to where we're probably headed. It's not true that anthropology is limited to the past and present of humanity. If any science is a good predictor of future socio-biological development, it is anthropology.

As for SL, I agree that there is a certain online culture, or rather multiple "gamer cultures" for the lack of a better term. But those are not really complete and functioning human cultures in the true sense of the term. The fact that we added 3D imagery and scripted behavior  to what is basically a collection of chatrooms does not mean that we really live here and procreate here. Some role play these activities, but it is only a simulation, just like everything else in SL. We don't have a political system, we don't practice agriculture (the two hallmarks of civilization), and we don't struggle to survive in this environment. 

A researcher can't even be sure that SL participants truthfully answer his questions. One cannot make any statement about, say, the behavior and motivations of female residents, because a considerable number of them happens to be male. Aside from gender, people also tend to lie about their age, location, occupation, financial situation, average time spent in SL and so on. SL's anonymity makes fact-based socio-cultural research pretty much impossible, not to mention anthro-biological research. 

It might be interesting to research the inworld activities of SL residents in the light of their RL background. As Dillon pointed out, our online habits can profoundly affect our RL, and vice versa. Meaningful anthropological research would necessarily include the cultural and biological (gender etc.) RL background of SL residents. I mean, we are not even a single species anymore in this world, which makes it impossible to view SL detached from the reality that its inhabitants still live in. The nekos and dragons that we pretend to be here are only of interest to felinologists and cryptozoologists :)

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Void Singer wrote:

because culture is the difference between two populations, given effectively the same biology. and the number one influence of that is environment. to make an analogy into perspective, both graphite and diamonds are made from carbon, but are unique from each other in important ways. their difference is in how the carbon interacts...  just like material science is concerned not with the base components, but their interactions, anthropology is concerned not with the biology of the people involved, but how those people interact.

But there are no two human populations that have the same biology :) We definitely are the same species, and the differences between the populations does not warrant the recognition of subspecies (especially and mainly because all populations continue to interbreed), but there unarguably are population-specific genetic differences. Some differences are morphological, and some are -- as politically incorrect as it has become to say this -- of a behavioral nature.

Our environment, including our socio-cultural environment, greatly affects population genetics. Since all behavior and preferences have a genetic basis, this change will in turn affect the culture of a population, and every cultural change again leads to a selection of different phenotypes that thrive in this particular culture. This is a neverending feedback loop that is known as gene-culture co-evolution.

 

In the words of anthropologist Peter Frost:

"The last 10,000 years have seen more genetic evolution than the previous 100,000 … or even the previous million. But to say so is anathema to those who still believe that the human mind stopped evolving over a million years ago. 

The fact that humans are capable of advanced culture and other species are not must be genetically based. Humans are cultural not just because of the environment, but rather because humans have acquired a set of genetic changes that other species didn’t have the great fortune to acquire. Cultural evolution definitely has a genetic basis. Nobody would deny that."

 

PS: This is also what distinguishes anthropology from evolutionary psychology, and what brought about the latter branch of science in the first place. E. psychology is basically a more politically correct (and therefore less fact-based) form of anthropology, which presupposes that our evolution came to a full stop at some point before we started to migrate into every corner of the globe (aside from minor changes in skin color and morphology, that is). But it's not that simple. Our genetic evolution is an ongoing process, and it affects not only our anatomy, but also our behavior and our culture.

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Ishtara Rothschild wrote:

 The nekos and dragons that we pretend to be here are only of interest to felinologists and cryptozoologists
:)

Umm, that might be a bit overstated. I've seen a whole lot of nekos of interest to me :smileywink:

@JeanneAnne, I think the bottom line is that you're just going to have to read it and give us a book report.

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JeanneAnne wrote:


Void Singer wrote:

because culture is the difference between two populations, given effectively the same biology. and the number one influence of that is environment. to make an analogy into perspective, both graphite and diamonds are made from carbon, but are unique from each other in important ways. their difference is in how the carbon interacts...  just like material science is concerned not with the base components, but their interactions, anthropology is concerned not with the biology of the people involved, but how those people interact.

But aren't those populations comprised of biological organisms, and aren't biotic components of the environment at least as important as abiotic components? Haven't sociobiological and behavioral ecology approaches to the study of the interactions between populations you describe, largely superceded classic cultural anthropological approaches? I ask because I don't really know. Isn't my field..

Jeanne

 

I'm not saying that biology isn't present, I'm saying it not in focus, because the biology is comparatively the same when referencing two different cultures... it serves as a baseline. the differences between two cultures points to other influences than their base biology, most notably environment (which includes physical and social elements).

Anthropology in itself is an extremely wide field, and cultural aspects are only a small segment, but in an environment such as SL it's probably the largest observable segment (the others suffering from various reporting bias and non observability) so it follows that it's the focus of the referenced book.

@Ishtara:

I strongly disagree that secondlife cannot represent a "true" culture. Culture in microcosm is tried and true in identifying behavior and norms of a populace (and to borrow a poor mans example from phychology, the stanford prison experiment). I'd agree that SL cannot represent a complete culture of the persons involved, but it is never the less interesting. I'd say the lack of (or rather possible freedom from) RL status cues, such as gender, body type etc that may not be largely under our control in RL, provide two different opportunities for exploring what norms we base our behavior on when those are absent, and how we respond to the lack of those cues, and ultimately how the culture evolves around that as a large scale variant of immigrant culture shock.

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I've not read the book, but your question prompted me to investigate further. From reading the introduction and notes, the book is academically legitimate, meaning the author is not a flake or journalist. He employes a qualitative methodology (as opposed to quantitative methodology), which is fine as a heuristic or for framing further research questions, but unlikely to yield conclusive results. In other words, he is telling a story within an academically legitimate methodology for telling stories.

That the book ends in June 2007 is significant. The author missed the huge culture war resulting from Linden Lab's strategic, philosophical, and policy reversals of 2007-2010. Second Life 2003-2007 was a very different world from Second Life 2007-2011. Most interesting to me, therefore, is that the research was conducted precisely when Second Life was in its prime, when it was a model of free-flowing human interaction, unsullied by Linden Lab managers and RL reformers. For that reason alone, the book is probably worth reading.

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Deltango Vale wrote:

That the book ends in June 2007 is significant. The author missed the huge culture war resulting from Linden Lab's strategic, philosophical, and policy reversals of 2007-2010. Second Life 2003-2007 was a very different world from Second Life 2007-2011. Most interesting to me, therefore, is that the research was conducted precisely when Second Life was in its prime, when it was a model of free-flowing human interaction, unsullied by Linden Lab managers and RL reformers. For that reason alone, the book is probably worth reading.

This would probably just make me sad that I missed it.

...Dres

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Ishtara Rothschild wrote:

(1.) ...one single, anthropocentric science...

(2.) ...does not mean that we really live here and procreate here...

(3.) We don't have a political system,  ...and we don't struggle to survive in this environment. 

(4.) A researcher can't even be sure that SL participants truthfully answer his questions.

(5.)  As Dillon pointed out, our online habits can profoundly affect our RL, and vice versa.

1. Not sure I like the sound of that..

2. Yet!

3. Oh yes we do. The Lindens are complete autocrats and we do too struggle to survive in the environment of SL. We struggle socially, we struggle with hardware & software issues, we struggle to obtain $L which pushes newbies into prostitution & slavery, we struggle to understand what's going on, we struggle to juggle :P rl vs inworld time... we struggle in many ways in SL. If we didn't struggle why do so many newbies fail to stick & so many oldtimers get jaded & say *bleep* it? This is the way I look at it, anyway..

4. Can't do that any better in RL.

5. Oh yeah! This I believe, for sure.. When I practice being nice & have fun in SL im not as stressed & bitchy at work. When I've had a bad day in RL I'm more curt & less fun loving in SL. Why wouldn't this be so? Just makes sense, seems to me.

Jeanne

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One of the most profound experiences of my life was riding on the back of a motorcycle in Hanoi a few years back. The roads have no signs and very few traffic lights. At many major crossroads, there are no signs at all - none! Imagine two wide roads containing thousands of motorcycles traveling in perpendicular directions very fast. My BF at the time knew the system, which is based on trajectory and dominance. To slow down or hesitate when going through such an intersection results in catastrophe. It's all about eye contact, honking (as a type of sonar) and lining up the slot. The system worked perfectly. Everyone knew it; everyone managed it flawlessly. It was like a million bats flying through a tunnel without touching. Amazing.

Second Life 2003-2007 was a bit like that - only in slow motion. People knew the system. Sure, it was tough on noobs (myself among them) who entered this new world, but, as with driving in Vietnam, it was so damn refreshing! Then came the road signs and the traffic lights and the police and the lawyers and the politicians and the church groups and the Concerned Citizens Against X, Y and Z and SL became more and more like New York, Massachusetts or California. Gods, as I sit here in what is increasing known as the Ultimate Kindergarten (UK), I dream of my hair flying in the wind as we zipped through those unregulated intersections in Hanoi. I feel much the same about Second Life.

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Deltango Vale wrote:

I've not read the book, but your question prompted me to investigate further. From reading the introduction and notes, the book is academically legitimate, meaning the author is not a flake or journalist. He employes a qualitative methodology (as opposed to quantitative methodology), which is fine as a heuristic or for framing further research questions, but unlikely to yield conclusive results. In other words, he is telling a story within an academically legitimate methodology for telling stories.

That the book ends in June 2007 is significant. The author missed the huge culture war resulting from Linden Lab's strategic, philosophical, and policy reversals of 2007-2010. Second Life 2003-2007 was a very different world from Second Life 2007-2011. Most interesting to me, therefore, is that the research was conducted precisely when Second Life was in its prime, when it was a model of free-flowing human interaction, unsullied by Linden Lab managers and RL reformers. For that reason alone, the book is probably worth reading.

WoW! Deltango,

Your's is prolly the most cogent, pertinent & enlightening response to a post of mine I've read yet.

Thanks!

Jeanne

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And you're a poet on top of all...

Makes me wish I'd knowna bout SL back then. I was in the NeoRaptorics text based rp back then, & played sim ant & sim city. My brobots played halo... Not sure why I never hearduv SL til now. Seems like Im getting in on the tail enduv it. Hope not. If so, tho, there'll be something better, something more egalitarian, less greed based... I'm sure... cuz if not, the internet will have quit evolving & population collapse must impend. That's how I think, anyway...

Thanks for your insights Deltango ;)

Jeanne

 

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Void Singer wrote:

 
I strongly disagree that secondlife cannot represent a "true" culture. Culture in microcosm is tried and true in identifying behavior and norms of a populace (and to borrow a poor mans example from phychology, the stanford prison experiment). I'd agree that SL cannot represent a complete culture of the persons involved, but it is never the less interesting. I'd say the lack of (or rather possible freedom from) RL status cues, such as gender, body type etc that may not be largely under our control in RL, provide two different opportunities for exploring what norms we base our behavior on when those are absent, and how we respond to the lack of those cues, and ultimately how the culture evolves around that as a large scale variant of immigrant culture shock.


I don't know how much further you want to discuss this, but I find it quite interesting. I do not see any single culture (or any group of cultures) in SL. Obviously you do; I'd like to know what you mean. The definitions of culture vary greatly, but almost all of them involve an acceptance of if not beliefs, patterns of behavior. I haven't looked for that in SL because I've never really thought about it. It's quite possible there are some and I just can't see them because I'm here. And having said that, the same is true of RL, isn't it? We don't really see the things we do until someone points them out.

As for the book, there is a pretty substantial extract here . I found it dry as dust, but I might read it anyway just for the history. I've heard a lot of talk about what SL was like before I got here in 2008. I don't know if I like the fact he used Margaret Mead's famous treatise as a suggestion for his title. Mead was writing about a very well-defined culture, one in which outside influences were small. A primitive tribal culture. Her breakthrough (seems to me) was that she wrote about what it meant to be a female in that culture, something that was typically overlooked in the science of her time. But it was, as I said, a primitive tribal culture. A male had a few options, a female very few.

Perhaps the author chose that title to express how different Second Life is than Mead's object of study. As I said, I didn't read very far.

Well I have rattled on, but I would be interested in some examples of what you mean by a culture or cultures in Second Life. And since I see the stupid television spammers are here again, at least I'm doing something to fight back.

 

ETA: @Jeanne—I'd missed your replies to Deltango somehow, but her mention of the time the book deals with is what led me to say I might read it anyway for the history. Maybe you'll have to let us all borrow it when you're done.

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I don't get many compliments, so thanks. I do, though, need to add that I'm a crap builder, my terraforming sucks and I couldn't script my way out of a paper bag. I struggle to stay on top of SL's technology and wouldn't last 15 seconds in something like World of Warcraft. If it weren't for the people I've met inworld and in this forum, I'd still be wearing a pillowcase and walking like a duck. Great thread, btw.

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Hmm.  From the sound of it, I may be the only person posting here who actually has read Boellstorff's book.

I'll just say a few things about, and maybe you can determine for yourself if it's worth reading -- although I gather you've already ordered a copy?  Oh well.  Ka-ching!

1) Coming of Age in Second Life is not a quickie make-a-buck book: it is a highly regarded and oft-cited work of legitimate anthropology. It won at least one award, I think.  (I'd check, but my copy is in a box somewhere, and I can't find it offhand.)

2) Although it comes under the larger rubric of "anthropology," that is a rather large and diverse field. The primary academic framework for Boellstorff's study is actually ethnology.  His introduction relates his study to Bronisław Malinowski's famous study of the culture of the Trobriand Islanders; his title is a tip of the hat to Margaret Mead's influential work of cultural anthropology, Coming of Age in Samoa.

3) The development of a distinctive culture within virtual worlds is an entirely legitimate subject of study for an ethnologist, as indeed is nearly any aspect of human culture.  And yes, there are anthropological studies of World of Warcraft already in existence, as a Google search will probably show you.

4) Boellstorff is no tourist in SL:  he spent extensive amounts of time in SL, and engaged intimately with the various communities he found.  The book is worthwhile for, if nothing else, the sheer amount of primary source material it contains:  he interviewed and interacted with hundreds of people here. It also employs extensive citations and includes an impressive bibliography of secondary source materials.

5) While it is already "out of date," so is any ethnographic study of contemporary culture, generally within a few years of its publication.  That's the nature of the beast.  That said, it doesn't feel out of date.  Indeed, my initial feeling while reading it was one of familiarity: it described an SL that was extremely recognizable.

6) It is surprisingly readable, and manages to avoid any long passages of academese.  He uses a very loose narrative framework for most of his discussions that makes it very easy to follow, and gives the whole thing a sort of anecdotal quality. I found it quite entertaining.


Overall, I enjoyed the book. I didn't "learn" much from it: I already knew of most of the aspects of SL culture that he was discussing.  But some of his insights about these things were very interesting.  And it was, as I said, also well-written and largely entertaining.

Hope that helps!

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