Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: National Association of Student Anthropologists
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Technology
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
Traditionally, “online life” has been conceptualized as a necessarily immersive digital space, animated with digital bodies rendered as autonomous figures, known in digital worlds as avatars. The avatar has long been the focus of the online self: it is often considered an escape from the real and an opportunity for new or "second selves”. However, with the expansion of online technologies into daily life - whether in terms of online gaming, community affiliation with online forums, or apps that change how we interact with our social worlds - the self is extended in new ways that interlock the online and the offline. Avatars, then, can be thought of as enabling new types of cyborgs (Haraway 1984) - providing affordances for new ways of being in the world, being part of a community, finding or experiencing others, or re-imagining the self.
Thinking of avatars as mediums for extending the self and translating life online/offline broadens our understanding of what online participation means for those who experience the presence of an online community as quotidian. In this logic of digital extension, avatars can be visible or invisible, composed of images, digital models, usernames, or user-profiles. While the visual cues encased in visible avatars provide certain affordances for being in the world – particularly in terms of marginalized bodies that are rendered unseen in many offline publics – invisibility, or a lack of a discernable online “body”, also affords certain modes of becoming.
Exploring these varied possibilities, this panel sheds further light on Internet communities from a perspective that explores the fluidity of embodiment, highlighting the ways in which textual mechanisms and digital practice enable either the re-production and re-presentation of marginalized identities, or the creation of cultural truths and group ideology. In doing so, this panel will work to make clear the translation processes that occur between online and offline worlds, discussing the ways in which online practice enters offline life and self-hood in either constructive or problematic ways.