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Is Ethical Fieldwork Possible?

Catherine Lucas: February 2010

 

Introduction

To approach this question, we must focus on certain common dilemmas faced by researchers in the field. For the purposes of this essay, I will investigate the following: how can field researchers obtain information morally when in difficult or dangerous situations? and, what can we do when personal safety or the continuation of our research, is in jeopardy?

I refer to two ethnographies from different times, situations and subjects, both facing the same problems of ethics concerning the use of covert research, questions of power balance, and protection of both the informants and the researcher themselves. These two ethnographies are Tearoom Trade (Laud Humphreys: 1970), and Mumbai Slums and the Search for ‘A Heart’ (Atreyee Sen: 2004)

In order to examine the ethics of the former study in hindsight of the field, I will be analysing the comments made by Punch in 1986, who explored in depth how to identity and overcome problems in fieldwork. His insights, I believe, lend useful understanding to the dilemma faced by Humphreys during his research, and consequently have a bearing on how I will approach and analyse Sen’s ethical issues in Mumbai.

Deception and lies:

The moral predicament of ‘Tearoom Trade’ (Laud Humphreys: 1970)

Through his research tactics Humphreys reinforces an image already prevalent in some circles that social scientists are sly tricksters who are not to be trusted…involving deception and manipulation… (Donald Warwick, in Bulmer: 1982:58)

Tearoom Trade (1970) covered covert research conducted by Humphreys in the late 1960s under the guise of being a homosexual man interested in engaging in casual sex in public toilets. He infiltrated a group using an alias and established himself as their ‘watch-queen’ – the man who would watch for police. During this time he took covert notes using a hidden recorder and was meticulous in his details, which included the license plates of the men involved. He later altered his appearance and used the information to conduct a ‘health survey’ on the men he had tracked from his findings. Although his research was an aid to understanding sexual practices, his methods left a lot to be desired and faced harsh criticisms.

Warwick’s comments lead us to wonder whether Humphrey’s methods of covert research led anthropologists and sociologists following after him to suffer from the legacy of so-called ‘deceit’ he left behind. Punch, in his 1986 examination of ethical fieldwork, questions whether some research subjects ought to be off limits altogether, which is another query raised by the content of Humphreys’ findings on homosexuality. His work was slammed by some critics not only for its methods of undeniably devious covert observation, but also for the immoral sexual nature of its content. Punch refers to Humphreys’ work as “well-known, if not now notorious,” (1986:31) so it is clear that his work has gained some notoriety amongst fellow anthropologists in a manner both humorous and as a subject of controversy. However, in 1980 Galliher notes that a strict ethics system for researchers may serve to protect certain subjects from being exposed, and that this could lead to harm rather than prevent it (cited by Wax, see references).

Covert research could be conducted by an academic in the interest of exposing the nefarious practices; but, even then, for some social scientists, certain areas are simply taboo because association with them is morally repugnant. (Punch: 1986:31)

It is clear here that Punch is referring to Humphreys’ research, however he does go on to admit that what some researchers may consider immoral subjects to explore, others may simply view as new challenges. This is one of the primary issues when determining whether a subject should even be considered morally acceptable to investigate: Humphreys, for example, may have seen no reason not to research ‘cottaging’ (secret meetings for casual homosexual sex in public toilets), indeed today we might not see it as such a shocking subject in comparison to the 1970s.

From this angle, then, perhaps we should consider the merits, if there are any, of covert research in this context, before dismissing it out of hand. Being such a secretive and taboo subject at the time, I do not believe that Humphreys would have encountered many men, particularly those apparently happily married, who would have accepted being interviewed on their casual homosexual encounters. Posing as the ‘watch-queen’ (guard) of the public toilet these encounters took place in may seem underhanded, elusive and immoral; however I do not think Humphreys would have collected such detailed data without securing this position.

The first area of true contention, starts I believe, with the use of a ‘health survey’ by Humphreys to collect further details on his subjects. To find the homes of these subjects, he also used the car plate numbers of men he had observed at the public toilets whilst working as ‘watch-queen,’ and recorded. This I feel is a gross violation of the trust the men bestowed on the ‘watch-queen,’ and damages the ethicality of his study more greatly than any of his former actions.

The problems encountered by Humphreys over the question of how to enter the field to carry out the research at all, is a problem Punch describes as a ‘situational dilemma.’ Referring to Humphreys’ work on Tearoom Trade in particular, however, Punch is quite contemptuous of the conscious use of covert and what he views as immoral methods. His main problem is also the recording of car number plates in order to track the men being observed. The idea of the group under observation being ‘relatively powerless’ (1986:34) highlights the issue of a wildly unbalanced power-play situation. Humphreys’ methods were not only covert, but also relied on not being discovered by the group in question, leaving them powerless to object to or approve the situation. Punch is inflexible in his insistence that some form of ‘informed consent’ should be adhered to, even if the true knowledge of the research is made clear to only one person.

Examining ethics in violent field settings:

‘Mumbai Slums and the Search for ‘A Heart’’ (Atreyee Sen: 2004)

While living and working with these women, I found myself a helpless, often frightened bystander to various forms of factional ‘war.’ Would, should, could I prevent this overt use of violence and threats? …The eerie spectre of ethics continued to haunt my work… (Sen: 2004:1)

Sen’s fieldwork was carried out in the slums of Mumbai and focused on the violent women’s movements that were rallying alongside the Hindu nationalists there, against the men they believed were making working conditions extremely oppressive and dangerous for women and children. Sen’s fieldwork took her close to the dangers of rape and physical harm, which she also witnessed amongst others. Her ethical dilemma became whether it was moral to simply sit on the sidelines, observing the violence being done to her newfound peers, or whether it was ethically unsound from an anthropological viewpoint to make any interjections.

She cites her aim as an anthropologist was to ‘make sense’ of her surroundings and “learn why young and old women in Mumbai slums became Hindu nationalists and engaged in collective, communal violence and urban conflict.” This violence was often in gang form against men in the community and also against other women who opposed their actions. Kondo’s 1990 description of how the fieldwork setting gradually becomes a familiar place you attach your familial emotions to, helps Sen to describe how attached she became to the women she was both researching and living alongside; how attached she became to the people around her: “…the ‘setting’ eventually becomes populated with people you grow to know, sometimes to love…” (Kondo 1990:7) This attachment to the ‘subjects’ of her field research made Sen increasingly unable to remain within the more stringent rules of ethics.

Some of the initial difficulties encountered in conducting her research, arose simply because the ethical manner of keeping all persons informed if they were being observed or recorded made her a target of suspicion. She was accused of being a ‘Bengali researcher rat’ by some of the movement’s leaders, as her data collecting began to arouse distrust in those around her. Given the delicate and dangerous situation of this fieldwork, therefore, we may forgive Sen for adopting what she refers to as “‘covert urban research.’ [Which] …gave rise to several paradoxes and grave ethical dilemmas.” (2004:3) She pretended to be an upper class Hindu woman in order to gain access to people she might otherwise have been unable to interview, and also used this role to protect herself personally.

However, when discussing the ideas raised by the ‘Sena’ women of the movement, she was careful never to offer any of her own opinions, which would not only have hindered her research but may have introduced a moral dilemma for the women being interviewed. Sen’s methods may seem unethical in part due to the by definition immoral practice of covert research, but on the other hand, her choice to do so was motivated not only for her own safety, but to protect others and to keep her findings as untarnished by her own status in the field as possible.

I made every effort to be fair to the Sena women and their circumstances. However in doing so I represented just one side of the on-going arguments concerning justice, revenge, forgiveness and freedom, and my work does not discuss the victims of the Bombay riots or their impotence while watching the Sena women wreak havoc and display their power. (Sen: 2004:4)

Sen readily admits the one-sided nature of her research findings, which was, I assume, a product of keeping herself seemingly ‘on the side’ of the Sena women, rather than putting herself in the middle of the conflict. I cannot see a problem with this, as the fact that she acknowledges this setback is useful enough an explanation. Her experience shows that although the field researcher must present as balanced findings as possible, they may be unable to do so in a situation that puts their own life at risk. For Sen, to fraternise with the other side of the conflict could also harm her allowance to collect information.

Threats on her life were also made, should she misuse the information she had gathered for any other use than that she relayed to the Sena women. She was “tailed by a Sena ‘detective’ for days before [she] …was allowed to live in the slums,” and this highlighted the power struggle between anthropologist and informer: Sen possessed information that gave her power over the Sena women, yet they also possessed the threatened power of violence against her and the ability to cut her off from further information. She constantly felt the push-pull of her work and her own quality of life during the fieldwork period, noting that she “…did not keep that [emotional] distance from the Sena women and whilst this made my ethnography richer it made my life poorer. A researcher who lived partially in fear of her subjects.” (2004:4)

Sen was also unable to conquer her own personal emotional reactions to certain events around her, where violence occurred that she had to witness, or where she watched children being taught to act violently. In the latter case she intervened, which on reading her account I believe she found relieving: “…just for a while, I felt I had suspended notions of cultural relativism and objective ethnography and climbed down from the role of ‘the non-interventionist anthropologist.’” (2004:5)

This admission of freedom in intervening against a violent action shows Sen not as an anthropologist but as a human being first. Unfortunately, there are many arguments we could explore as to the ethicality of this intervention, not least of all that had this action had a unfavourable outcome, it could have not only hindered or halted the research Sen was involved with, but also might have had a more fatal outcome for the researcher herself.

Although Sen did intervene on the actions of her subjects in this one circumstance, her notes suggest that she generally attempted to remain a placid observer to all
situations, even where violence occurred. She is not insensible to the fact that silence is often taken as alliance with a cause, a fact that she addresses at the close of her paper:

Through their construction of me as a friend, a sympathiser and an agent of the bhari duniya, the wider world, did they also construct an image of the duniya that would support their aggression? (2004:6)

The power balance throughout Sen’s fieldwork remained more securely in favour of the Sena women than the anthropologist studying them. Would it have harmed Sen personally to take affront with what was happening in the Mumbai slums? We can only truly focus, after the event, on the information gathered. This information, although somewhat one-sided in content, nonetheless represents a strong insight into the inner-workings of a dangerous political movement, and in this case we might more readily bend the rules of ethics. In addressing whether ethical fieldwork was possible in the case, I cannot say that it was unethical, as Sen clearly acts in a manner she believes safest to both herself and her subjects, whilst diligently attempting to expand her access to greater in-depth research.

Conclusion

Punch notes that in some cases of fieldwork it may be “situationally inappropriate to repeat continually that purpose [of the research] and to identify oneself.” (1986:37) By this he means that the researcher may be unable to constantly introduce themselves as an anthropologist, and should use the rule to do so as a guideline that may be varied under difficult circumstances.

In Sen’s case, it would have been dangerous to continually announce herself as a researcher, although she did ensure that those she interviewed were aware that she was making a study of them. If we look at Humphreys, on the other hand, he makes no attempt to suggest that he is conducting research, and in fact consciously hides this by adopting disguises.

Despite his dubious methods it cannot be denied that Humphreys’ research gave us a far greater understanding of human sexual activities outside of ‘normative’ practices. At the time of Tearoom Trade’s publication, the AIDs epidemic was about to hit, and until that time barely any attention had been given to ‘cottaging’ or the idea that married men might perform homosexual activities in secret. The main issue to contention must be whether or not his records ensured to sufficient degree the confidentiality of his subjects, for as Punch stresses: “What is trivial to us may be of vital concern to the researched.” (1896:48)

Words: 2,432.

Essay produced for Goldsmiths College, London. 2010.

 

 

Bibliography/References

Hunt, Jennifer. C. (1989) Psychoanalytic Aspects of Fieldwork. Sage University Paper.

Laud Humphreys (1970) Tearoom Trade. UK: London. Gerald Duckworth & Co.

MaCall and Simmons (eds.), (1969) Issues in Participant Observation. USA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Punch, Maurice. (1986) The Politics and Ethics of Fieldwork. Sage University Press pp.29-48

Sen, Atreyee (2004) ‘Mumbai slums and the search for ‘a heart’: Ethics, ethnography and dilemmas of studying urban violence,’ in: Anthropology Matters Journal 2004, Vol 6. (http://www.anthropologymatters.com)

Wax, Murray. L. ‘Some issues and sources on ethics in anthropology,’ from: Cassell, J. and Jacobs, S.E. Handbook on Ethical Issues in Anthropology. (http://www.aaanet.org/committees/ethics/toc.htm)

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After rediscovering and posting my 2006 piece on fashion photography and advertising – which focuses essentially on what is now known as the ‘size zero debate,’ I thought I’d do a search of ‘thinspiration’ on wordpress to see what others have come up with. The myriad results were interesting.

The following links I am not going to fully critique; they each approach the idea of thinspiration in a different manner, and are therefore equally academically interesting to me, particularly from a psychoanalytical view…

The first link is from ‘Portraitdunefemme”s blog:

http://portraitdunefemme.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/thinspiration/ the piece is simply entitled ‘thinspiration’ and is mainly pictures of models and celebrities – there’s some pretty extreme thinness towards the middle photos. Selected quote: “No, no. I am not anorexic. I just find their form of… inspiration to be… inspiring. Looking at photos of thin, beautiful women makes me want to exercise and watch what I eat.”

‘Coup de Gras’ seems to be a blog that has a focus on weightloss, as there is a ‘weight loss barometer’ at the side of the page.

Again, the post is simply entitled ‘thinspiration,’ however this one examines the word and attempts to give it some different meanings. Selected quote: “I like to use “thinspiration” as any quote that reminds me why I want to lose weight, live a better life, etc.” However, as the piece is about weight loss, I’m not sure the meaning of the word is altered. The link is here: http://coupdegras.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/thinspiration/

The third link is to “23 and somewhat nornal.”

This very short post links to an interesting youtube video about ‘Sacrifice’ – ie. sacrificing eating, to anorexia. http://drema101.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/thinspiration/ I found her revalation that although she ‘knows it’s wrong,’ just looking at thinner women makes her wonder whether she is overweight.

‘Anti-Thinspiration‘ is an educative blog that teaches women what thinspiration sites are, and their dangers. For anyone looking to research this academically, I believe there would be an interesting source of amateur work here – the message boards of this blog are thoughtful and informative too.

The post I am referencing is entitled ‘What is Thinspiration?’ and can be found here: http://antithinspo.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/what-is-thinspiration/ They also give information on ‘reverse thinspiration’ images, which show overweight people in a bid to show women and men the perils of overeating. This site does contain some rather gruesome (in my opinion) ‘thinspo’ images, however I am impressed by the large warning on their site: ” WARNING: The following post contains images which may be triggering to those suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder.”

Finally, please, if you don’t want to have to look at thinspiration skeletal images but do want to read a very impressive critique of fashion advertising and thinspirational sites, please visit the blog ‘This is Not a Diet,’ which is witty and intelligent.

The post I accessed is called ‘Grown Women have Curves’. Selected quote: “In the midst of the obesity epidemic we are facing, it is no wonder that we are obsessed with the opposite of obesity: emaciation.  We’ve lost sight of the line between a healthy, natural female shape and an obesity problem.  The more we obsess over Skinny, the fatter we become.” Find the full article, complete with some beautiful images, here: http://notsobigk.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/grown-women-have-curves/

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(May 2007, Catherine Lucas)

An Analytical Perspective on the Cultural Phenomenon of Internet Blogging Through an Understanding of Haraway’s Theory of the Cyborg.

 

In her “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Haraway outlines a definition of a cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”§ (Haraway; 1991) Where the concept of blogging is concerned, writing one’s thoughts, opinions and desires into the anonymity of the Internet could be categorized as a progression of ourselves becoming cyborgs, particularly in the social sense. For bloggers, sharing one’s ideas across the Internet has become even more of a second nature than holding a face to face discussion of their beliefs and judgements. In this manner, technology becomes an extension of the human brain and its faculties. One may now even enter an actual virtual universe to interact on this level.

Haraway theorises that we are all now “chimeras theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism,” where our natural movements flow easily into that of the machine without us giving much realisation to the action, and so in short, “we are cyborgs.” (Haraway; 1991) Blogging is a cultural phenomenon that is centred on this idea of an extension of the brain, imagination and our human expression; rather than discussing or debating our ideas and fantasies, we now record them on a universally accessible database of information.

While this phenomenon is certainly relevant to the exploration of the cyborg, it may also be linked to Arendt’s theories of alienation, as blogging, while a useful tool for purveying information, is also a solitary technique of interaction if one considers only ‘physical reality’ as the real sense of a reality, and ‘virtual reality’ as one which can only be accessed on a solitary level, where one is not communicating physically, and relies on an imagined state to convey one’s own thoughts and ideals. Therefore, although blogging is for many seen as a social activity, this social interaction may be viewed as merely superficial, and as a shield that distracts us from our own ‘real life’ alienation, by inhabiting a fictional reality to console ourselves of our own sense of loneliness. By using blogging as a defence mechanism in this manner, one is effectively succumbing to the idea of a growing epidemic of human-roboticism.

Haraway examines the rise of roboticism throughout her manifesto, unfolding the idea of “boundary breakdowns” between human and machine, which are expanded on by Schaer in her article on a “Life Less Ordinary” (Schaer; 2007) as she explores the entire ‘online world’ of Second Life. These boundary breakdowns have been met with abject criticism from many theorists and journalists who see the exploration of the virtual as a rejection of natural reality, and as a psychological retreat into an anonymous and fictional existence where one can be ‘safe’ from the outside world and also shun ‘true’ human interaction, which is described by Middleton as an “amputation” or betrayal of our cultural heritage, stemming from the rise of the blog (Middleton; Australia –undated). As Schaer puts it: “Don’t these people have real lives? Why make a whole bunch of fantasy friends…when you could be outside in the real sunshine…?” (Schaer; 2007)

This rise of roboticism is for many seen as dangerous, as the concept of blogging emerges as a new media type; Johnson and Kaye’s study of blog users’ reliance on blogs for information on politics, for example, shows an embracing of robotically conveyed media. If cyborgs are designed to exist through futuristic or technological advances, bloggers can record their opinions for access by Internet users for generations to come, however due to inevitable Internet ‘skewing’ (explored by Drezner and Farrell; 2004) the same opinions would retain their popularity and readership by internet users and so could create a biased image of the world detailed and discussed within them. Cyborgs are seen as having lost some human characteristics such as ‘feeling’ due to being a ‘technologically altered’ human hybrid, (Haraway; 1991) in which case bloggers who use blogging as a facility for an extension of human interaction could theoretically turn more cynical, more ‘robotic’ in their world outlook, and more passive to the real world as it happens around them, only viewing it through an analytical brain. Haraway offers a chilling perception of this, in that “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (1991)

However, O’Donnell constructs theories on how “the blogosphere might challenge or enhance current theories of teaching,” (O’Donnell; 2005) as a more positive side to this argument. If, as Haraway suggests, we are all cyborgs, our communicative ideas using online technology may only become more technologically advanced, an idea already explored by Schaer as she interviews Angela Thomas, a lecturer at The University of Sydney, who uses the virtual world ‘Second Life’¨ to teach classes and hold meetings within a ‘virtual reality’. Thomas states, “I don’t like to distinguish what I do in Second Life as unreal because, for me, it’s very real to be paid to teach my classes there.”(Schaer; 2007)

Whilst one argument may suggest that understanding a virtual reality such as Second Life as ‘very real’ is proof of the possible dangerous nature of integrating oneself too far into a cyber world of blogging and other technological methods of communication, others could argue that such advances can only help broaden our intellectual horizons, with the vast, infinite possibilities of the Internet “seen as a place to give and share information,” by Thomas (Schaer; 2007). From this viewpoint, discourses expanded through online blogs could improve access to education and interaction with the rest of the world, to those in underprivileged countries, or those who find themselves housebound or with social interaction difficulties.

It would be naïve to simply dismiss the growth of the cyborg in our society as dangerous and objectionable, when it could bring relief to many others. When an anonymous blogger in his own home can make his political voice heard without the requirement of ‘traditional’ and ‘human’ methods of physical demonstration and revolt, but through a concise documentation of ideas and opinions, surely such an extension of one’s thought processes can only enrich a world of opinions by providing bloggers with the tools to voice these hopes. However, Dr Adriane Vromen (University of Sydney) poses a very important question of “whether it [virtual environments and the internet in general] can go beyond communities of shared interest… The Internet has become indispensable, but whether it can create a real sense of debate… is another question altogether.” (Schaer; 2007)

In exploring the references of this essay, it is apparent that Haraway’s theories of the cyborg have maintained their relevance and even exceeded their original readings; as our community becomes progressively more reliant on technologies and the invention of newer, faster and more efficient methods of mechanising daily life, the “Manifesto for Cyborgs” begins to look more prophetic than speculative. As a society, we have collectively taken the ideas of a cyborg culture to new levels as technology continues to evolve and impose itself on our culture, leading one to rely more heavily on it as the ‘technological age’ continues, even to the extent of a progressive reliance on blogged opinions to influence our own perceptions of political climate, which is an area of most fundamental social discourse, being an indefinite and under no circumstances a static state, as explored by Drezner and Farrell (“The Power and Politics of Blogs,” 2004).

However, if cyborgs are the point of conjunction between imagination and material reality, (Haraway; 1991) how can one regulate this possible intrusion of the imagination as it is expressed in blogs and the sphere of virtual reality? If one cannot distinguish the ‘false’ from ‘real life’, then surely this would result in a social and cultural deflation, though initiated, presumably, in good will and with the intent of exploring new technology and it’s devices. If, as Haraway asserts, “the cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity,” (1991) then one cannot help but wonder what might happen should these ironies distort within the impersonal void of the cyber world. 

Notes:

  • § Haraway: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs…” 1991. In this manifesto, Haraway seeks to define the Cyborg and also puts forward the theory that not only are humans becoming like cyborgs, but that we are actually part cyborgs already due to the prevailing intake of how technology increasingly influences our lives, and the readiness with which we have come to accept it as second nature, for example in a contemporary sense I am using a Word Processing program to ‘write’ an essay, rather than using the traditional method of writing words by hand, and this method of communication has become second nature, has become ‘normal’ to me.

 

¨For more information about ‘Second Life’, please see my additional informative essay (below) exploring this program in further detail, or go to http://www.secondlife.com

References:

 

PART 2


“Second Life”: An Informative Exploration.

(Note: this information piece although written to further inform the Marker, is not a part of the above essay.)

Although my essay was not primarily based on the phenomenon of ‘Second Life’, I found that it raised for me many parallels not only with Haraway’s theory of the cyborg, and that we have become a cyborg culture, but also with Arendt’s theories of alienation –has society become so ‘lonely’ although over crowded, as we have so little time to interact with each other in our ‘real’ lives, that we are forced to retreat into a whole other ‘virtual world’ when we get home, so that we can allow ourselves to live another life we wish we had but know we will never achieve? The following information explains what Second Life is in more detail, and expands on how it is being used in particular by academics and businesses for further financial gain –a true world of cyborg…

According to its tag line, Second Life is a “3D online digital world imagined, created and owned by its residents.’ It is a complete other continent found in a virtual cyber reality, in which people can recreate themselves a new appearance, personality and lifestyle for a preliminarily free membership, or by purchasing a premium membership for $9.95/month (US$).

The advantage of paying for a premium membership is that as an online ‘person’ you can purchase and develop on your own virtual plots of land –the availability of land is infinite, due to the infinite nature of virtual reality. With the free account, users are not allowed to ‘own’ land. Land can be rented or bought for various amounts of money, as well as private islands for the wealthy. These purchases are bought through the ‘Linden Dollar,’ which is the Second Life currency.

This currency already has a recognised exchange rate with the online secure payment method ‘Paypal’ which is used by Ebay users, for example, to pay for purchases using credit cards. The Linden Dollar is also recognised with an exchange rate by some American banks. It is important to note that although paying with a virtual currency, the money really does come out of your ‘real life’ bank accounts! However, this also means that one can invest, and sell products and services through Second Life, which gives one the opportunity to make real money through a virtual stock market…

Second Life has millions of members, including academics and businessmen, some of whom even use their ‘avatar’ presence (one’s online personality) to be able to conduct ‘business meetings’ with their colleagues in other countries, which many find preferable to video conferencing or cross-audio conferencing, as they have a greater sense of ‘being in the same room’ and less far away from the people they seek to interact with –in utilising Second Life in this manner, they are making use of a virtual reality in order to make their actual world seem smaller, and so feel closer to others.

If this was an opinion piece, I would definitely wish to ask: how can the phenomenon of Second Life be a good thing when it is encouraging us so far into the cyborg that we are constructing full online lives, masquerading as the person we wish desperately to be? Should we not be encouraged to accept out own selves and our own reality, and to make more communicative efforts to meet real people, flesh people who don’t look like cartoon characters? However, on the other side of the coin, surely the advent of Second Life must be a blessing for those who cannot interact with others on a personal level through psychological or phobic issues, and especially for those suffering from any number of severe disabilities which would render them house bound or bed ridden –Second Life gives them an opportunity to explore the world, even if it’s not the world the rest of us inhabit. With a huge increase in online or virtual reality methods of education, which could certainly benefit those who cannot for whatever reasons, attend conventional means of educative institutions, it would not be that surprising if we saw a Second Life University crop up in the virtual world in the near future.

References:

http://www.secondlife.com

Arendt, Hannah: “The Human Condition.”

Haraway, Donna: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.”

Schaer, Cathrin: “A Life Less Ordinary.”

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