Legal anthropologist of gor!


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Games+Learning+Society 2010 conference presentation.

Issues of ethics and research methodology in studying an unusual online community.

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Legal anthropologist of gor!

  1. 1. Legal Anthropologist of Gor!<br /> a research conundrum<br />John Carter McKnight<br />PhD Student,<br />Human & Social Dimensions of Science & Technology<br />Arizona State University<br />
  2. 2. the conundrum<br /> what to do when <br />the customs of your research site<br /> are at odds with<br />those of your professional community<br />
  3. 3. the research question<br />how is “canon” deployed<br /> in Second Life Gorean<br />roleplay communities <br />for political ends?<br />
  4. 4. who cares?<br />the political wielding of canon within and among communities is relatively (totally?) unexplored at the micro level<br />and something of a pressing issue at the global level: fundamentalisms, strict construction<br />SL Gor as a process and culture model<br />
  5. 5. but…<br />methodolgical/ethical issues<br /> are at least as important!<br />internet social science research<br /> norms contrast powerfully with <br /> those of the community at issue<br />wish it away? side with the <br /> professional community?<br /> or…?<br />
  6. 6. what’s Gor?<br />28 novels by John Norman <br /> from 1967 to 2009<br />Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche<br />Ideology of slavery and <br /> absolute female subjugation <br />an “ontological politics” <br /> (Law 2004) of essentialism<br />
  7. 7. Goreans before SL<br />novels out of print 1988-2007<br />fandom built around readily available used paperbacks<br />“Lifestyle Gor” and online forums<br />a fandom of doing more than making<br />focus on social/sexual relations<br />private, quiet, underground<br />
  8. 8. then came Second Life<br />~50,000 active Goreanroleplayers in SL!<br /> (Au, 2009)<br />2007 - recurring conflict between GoreanRP’ers and SL mainstream<br />retreat behind the silk curtain – Gorean autarky<br />building, machinima, fashion - and RP<br />
  9. 9. why study SL Gor?<br />very little academic work done<br />(Bardzell & Odom 2008, Sixma 2009)<br />important site of <br /> online governance<br />a larger political question – <br /> the appeal and implications <br /> of submission<br />
  10. 10. but Goreans don’t like us!<br />after the 2007 conflicts, many Goreans wary of mainstream interaction<br />particular aversion to academics<br />normative conflicts<br />bad methodology<br />above all, that conflict of ontological politics<br />
  11. 11. a Goreanoldtimer says…<br />“You might want to be careful how many people know that you are a) male IRL and b) doing research. …<br />Those of us who have been at this for a long time (I have about 15 years myself, including some time as a lifestyler) have seen way too many half cocked academics throw down the abuse card at us, and tend to be gun shy.”<br />(“Tiberius” 2010)<br />
  12. 12. how to study an RP community?<br />from the outside - observation<br />reliance on self-reporting – but with Gor there’s that ontological-political gap<br />an outsider can see the “what,” but not feel the “why” (Kendall 2009, 2010)<br />no easy external observer’s position in SL, unlike LJ roleplay (the “visitor” tag as lab coat)<br />
  13. 13. how to study an RP community?<br />from the inside - participation<br />enables access to emotive dimension<br />breaks the insider/outsider dichotomy<br />reverses power relations – from lab coat and clipboard to n00b (Hine 2000)<br />n00bery is a license to ask research questions<br />
  14. 14. but SL introduces complications<br />disclosure<br />reflexivity<br />negotiating the ontological-political gap<br />
  15. 15. disclosure - the anthro norm<br />
  16. 16. profile disclosure<br />breaks the magic circle<br />violates norms of RP<br />arguably breaches general SL norms<br />privileges the culture of the observer over that of the participant<br />(see Bardzell 2010 for a nice analysis of the SL profile)<br />
  17. 17. and yet…<br />non-disclosure is ethically dubious at best<br />invites exactly the reaction it’s intended to avoid (betrayal over normative violations)<br />expected/required/mandated by observer culture (e.g., IRB approval/exemption)<br />
  18. 18. reflexivity<br />SL Gor as digitally *embodied*<br />the (digital) body is the research site and ontological-political battleground<br />issues of canon are issues of the essential nature of the gendered body<br />The Gorean experience is that of both the male and female, the privileged and the enslaved<br />
  19. 19. unnatural acts<br />this is why cross-gender RP is both anathema and essential<br />not the only invisible border crossing:<br /> cross-gender RP reflects the traversing of the IC/OOC borderlands/la frontera<br />the Gorean doesn’t live in the essentialism, but in the ironic duality<br />
  20. 20. squaring the circle<br />change the ontological-political conflict from a bug to a feature<br />pair Gorean essentialism with postmodernism<br />analyze Gor through the lens of cyborg feminism (Harraway 1991)<br />
  21. 21. the cyborg<br /> “is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. <br /> No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polis based partially on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household.” (1991, 151) <br />This seems an excellent job description for a critical participant observer of SL Gor!<br />
  22. 22. what does this all mean?<br />embody the dichotomies<br />male/female<br />free/slave<br />IC/OOC<br />observer/participant<br />reflexivity<br />don’t privilege <br /> observer norms<br />
  23. 23. a cyborg feminist methodology?<br /> “We usually think that holding to the protocols of experimentation and verification is the most difficult thing. But in fact the most difficult thing is to renounce the truth and the possibility of verification, to remain as long as possible on the enigmatic, ambivalent, and reversible side of thought.”<br /> (Baudrillard, 2000)<br />
  24. 24. contact me!<br />John Carter McKnight, MIA, JD<br /><br /><br /> Blog, CV, presentations<br /> + Twitter, Facebook,<br /> LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc.<br />Second Life: KaseidoQuandry<br />