Monday, March 30th at 11am Pacific Time, Tom Boellstorff, Celia Pearce, Thomas Malaby and I will be in Second Life on a panel discussing the following question:
What can qualitative and experimental methods tell us about virtual worlds and culture?
And read on for the dramatic backstory!
Earlier this month, I had cultural anthropologist Tom Boellstorff on Metanomics, along with Prof. Celia Pearce, for a discussion about anthropological research on virtual worlds. We had some great discussions, before and during the show, about how traditional methods of anthropological research apply to virtual world settings.
For those who don't follow the field, Tom is the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association, but despite his lofty credentials, has spent a good deal of time in Second Life, where he conducted the research behind his recent book, Coming of Age in Second Life. Celia Pearce is a former doctoral student of his, and has studied the "Uru diaspora" in There.com and Second Life. You can get all of the links and background information on them here, as well as the audio, video and text transcripts of the discussion, and even the inworld backchat. (We at Metanomics take our archives seriously!).
Anyway, leave it to me to stick my foot in it at the end of the show by making a rather Castronova-esque proposal:
Virtual worlds give anthropologists a fascinating new opportunity—to actually create cultures. Virtual world developers have already been doing this, as our guests showed so clearly over the last hour. So let’s bring research anthropologists into the mix, right up front, and use VWs as a laboratory to test and refine the predictions of anthropological theory.
Naturally I elaborated on the benefits of the experimental method, and the promise and challenges I saw with such a research program. I didn't intend to be controversial, but cue the rotten tomatoes, in the form of this blog discussion.
Frankly, I think there is a lot less disagreement than it seems on the surface--research methods should complement one another, at least as much as they compete--but there are also a lot of substantive issues that could benefit from further discussion. Discuss them we will, and I hope some Terra Novans will join us.
Feel free to weigh in on the debate (you might start with Boellstorff's reaction to Castronova's suggestion along similar lines), and pose questions for the panelists.