« The Postnational Sodalities of Second Life: An Iconographic Approach | Main | Virtual Bank Robbery Redux »

Jul 04, 2009



I also find these questions of “mapping” interesting. In fact, it’s one of the best responses I have to the question “what do your Indonesia and Second Life research projects share?”, insofar as in my Indonesia research I’ve been interested in how gay identity “maps” from the West to Indonesia. Or more correctly, how what happens is that a notion of Indonesian gay identity takes form in Indonesia that can’t be reduced to a “mapping.”

In fact, I’m not a fan of terming this “mapping” in the first place, for two reasons. First is that the notion of mapping is a very experience-distinct concept with a strong cognitive bias (at the expense of practices, social relations, etc.). Bourdieu hit on this problem when noting that mapping “is the analogy which occurs to an outsider who has to find his way around in a foreign landscape and who compensates for his lack of practical mastery, the prerogative of the native, by the use of a model of all possible routes” (Outline of a Theory of Practice, p. 3). If we’re interested in the processes of movement and interchange, rather than the abstract grid of the analyst for which we fill in boxes and such, then I think it should be a research question as to whether or not a specific phenomenon is an instance of “mapping” or not—rather than treating the idea of mapping as a pregiven framework.

That links up to the second problem I have with the idea of “mapping,” which is just the simple point that there are a whole range of forms of interconnection, transfer, influence, reconfiguration, etc., rather than a singular process. There can be all kinds of resonances between virtual and actual worlds, in either “direction” and indeed all directions at once, with a range of power structures shaping them, etc. So for instance what I call “dubbing” with regard to gay identity in Indonesia certainly has some broader analytical purchase but I’ve never meant the term to apply to all circumstances. I think part of what you’re hitting on with the point that “The news is: Though virtual, it’s pretty normal” is that is behooves those of us with interest in virtual worlds to attend to forms of “mapping” in actual-world contexts: globalization, translocality, cosmopolitanism, migration, etc., in all their forms, and in most contemporary cases already interfacing with mass media and Internet technologies.

An interesting post indeed – thanks for this!


Interesting perspectives, Tom. I wonder if narrowing the term might then help.

Let's replace the term "mapping" with an as-yet-unnamed Factor X. The Factor X that Dmitri and I and others are looking for refers to something quite specific. If virtual worlds have Factor X in domain Y, then we can use them to study domain Y. Results from within virtual worlds regarding domain Y will generalize to the offline world. So long as virtual worlds exhibit Factor X, we can use virtual worlds as Petri dishes.

I have yet to coin a term successfully, so I'll leave that to others.

Factor X = ?


In psychology, you'ld usually talk about "ecological validity" -- whether the study generalises to other settings or places. "Ecological validity" is a potential problem not just for laboratory experiments (which might not generalise to the real-world situations you're really interested in) but also for field studies in a naturalistic setting, because these might not generalize to other real-world situations.

In some of the virtual worlds work, I get the feeling that there is a tension between the methodologies of psychology vs those of ethnography/anthropology/sociology.

e.g. Are we looking at universal characteristics of human beings that are the same for everyone, everywhere or are we looking at highly contingent, historicall-situated, cultural practises? Does it make sense to understand a human being as if they were isolated, or are their interactions with other humans in their society a fundamental, irreducible influence on their behaviour? etc.

e.g. (in a nod to Tom's work) is being "gay" a culture-independent biological characteristic of (some) humans, that can equally well be studied anywhere, from Indonesia to the US, or is it culturally situated? (Cf. Michel Foucault, "History of Sexuality", of course).

If you take a Foucault-influenced view that being "gay" was somehow different in different cultures and different times, you might take the view that the various things we see happening in virtual worlds are also history dependent, and can't be assumed as universals.

VW examples: Is Second Life before the gambling ban the same as SL after the gamling ban? Is Zindra the same as the mainland? If you can't even generalize to other parts of the same VW, or the same VW a couple of years ago, the possibilty of generalizing to the "real world" looks uncertain.


Good point, Edward!


FYI, the mapping paper itself is entirely about these ecological validity issues. It's not incongruent with Tom's suggestions. Mapping can have as much nuance as the researcher wants. It's merely the idea that one set of things/practices/effects/cultures/patterns/relationships/whatever may exist in both real and virtual spaces, plus the notion that finding which do and which do not would be helpful.



The comments to this entry are closed.