9 September 2008

Book: Coming of Age in Second Life – an anthropologist explores the virtually human

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Coming of Age in Second Life
Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human (Hardcover)
by Tom Boellstorff
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, 2008, 328 pages

Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love–the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. Coming of Age in Second Life is the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar “Tom Bukowski,” and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.

Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself.

Tom Boellstorff is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia and The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (Princeton).

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Book reviews: The Guardian | Scientific American | Times Literary Supplement

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