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NCTE Ethnographic Writing

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This is the presentation given at NCTE 11/07 by Laura Nicosia.

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NCTE Ethnographic Writing

  1. 1. The Observed Self in Action Avatars as Rhetoric: Using Autoethnographic Writing in Second Life Laura Nicosia, PhD Montclair State University, NJ http://virtualautoethnographicwriting.wikispaces.com
  2. 2. First, we should define our terms: avatar, rhetoric, autoethnography
  3. 3. What is an avatar? <ul><li>An avatar is an Internet user's representation of him/herself. </li></ul><ul><li>The term was popularized by Neal Stephenson in his cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (1992). </li></ul>
  4. 4. Avatars may be Furries
  5. 5. Disco dancing Mayan Princes…
  6. 6. Or even cyborgs.
  7. 7. What do I mean by rhetoric? <ul><li>Is an analysis of spoken or printed discourse that emphasizes “ meaning” by posing ontological and epistemological questions. </li></ul><ul><li>Provides interpretations of reality and virtuality as texts able to be “read.” </li></ul>
  8. 8. What is autoethnographic writing? <ul><li>An analytical written account of the self as part of a group or culture </li></ul><ul><li>An analysis of being different or an outsider as told from the inside </li></ul><ul><li>An attempt to see the self as others might </li></ul><ul><li>An explanation of how one is &quot;othered&quot; </li></ul>Susan Bennett, Humboldt State University
  9. 9. Who are my students (in real life)? <ul><li>Montclair State has a total student </li></ul><ul><li>enrollment of nearly 17,000 students </li></ul><ul><li>Over 36% of our students identify </li></ul><ul><li>themselves as a minority </li></ul><ul><li>Average student SAT scores are circa 1100 </li></ul><ul><li>Women account for over 60% of our students </li></ul><ul><li>My 35 “Art of Fiction” students are all undergraduate English majors (25 female & 10 male) </li></ul>
  10. 10. How do I use SL in my classes? <ul><li>My students explore and interact with literary virtual learning environments (created by me, the Director of Technology at my university, or by colleagues at Literature Alive!) to augment traditional class time. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Dante’s Inferno & Naylor’s Linden Hills
  12. 12. Students write epitaphs for the graveyard in Naylor’s Mama Day .
  13. 13. Regional Women Writers House
  14. 14. They enter the learning space and orient themselves to their surroundings
  15. 15. Encounter tasks I assign and design Unlike traditional classes, the content is always available in a SL learning environment--even when you’re not.
  16. 16. Submit written tasks either inworld or via email
  17. 17. After their inworld experiences… <ul><li>Students reflect on the content, examine their developing senses of self and agency through blogging about their inworld experiences. </li></ul>
  18. 18. I organize all blog subscriptions with Google Reader & RSS feeds
  19. 19. Their autoethnographic task <ul><li>Students were required to write about the following considerations: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The avatar’s visual appearance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The projected personality of the avatar </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Their attachment to, or detachment from, the avatar </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Their avatar’s sense of place in Second Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Their avatar’s sense of membership within various communities of Second Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether they wanted to remain anonymous or be identifiable with their avatars </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. How Can One Observe Oneself? <ul><li>In real life, observing oneself is impossible. </li></ul><ul><li>However, virtual worlds allow us to project and observe a chosen, created self in a distinctly postmodern context— on a computer screen. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Metacognition and self-image <ul><li>“ In real life we do not get the chance to step back and see ourselves. While we are able to see an image of ourselves projected in a mirror or in a picture, it is impossible to remove ourselves from our body and see what we look like to others. Second Life affords us the opportunity to see how we appear to and interact with others through a virtual setting.” –Heather </li></ul>
  22. 22. Derrida’s Corporeal Semantics and the Self <ul><li>We communicate a sense of Self by performing our identities. </li></ul><ul><li>People come to know us through our repeated instances of performativity. </li></ul><ul><li>We perform through our bodies, as well as the use of text, voice or physical cues. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Additionally… <ul><li>Students watch themselves perform and interact with other avatars and within the virtual environment. </li></ul><ul><li>They can watch their actions unfold like a drama or play, within which they are engaged. </li></ul><ul><li>The platform enables them to switch camera views to look at or through their avatars’ eyes. </li></ul>
  24. 24. View one View two Looking at myself Through my eyes
  25. 25. Excerpts from blog entries regarding the creation, alteration, projection and reception of avatars.
  26. 26. Construction of a projected Self <ul><li>“ I really enjoy creating a caricature of myself online. It gives me the opportunity to enhance the good traits that I believe I have, and take on some of the traits I wish I had in real life.” </li></ul><ul><li> – Ariel </li></ul>
  27. 27. Ariel’s avatar as projected Self
  28. 28. Constructed Self as Character <ul><li>“ You have to look at all the points of yourself and maybe even some of your quirks. To me, my avatar is a physical representation of my idiosyncrasies, although I did try and eliminate some of the ‘bad quirks’ from my avatar’s personality. She’s the ‘perfect’ me, or the ‘ideal’ that I can’t be for whatever reason.” – Leslie </li></ul>
  29. 29. Leslie’s avatar as the Virtual Self: “The ‘perfect’ me, or the ‘ideal’ that I can’t be for whatever reason.”
  30. 30. Challenging ideals of beauty <ul><li>“ I decided she should be the opposite of me. She has spiky hair, is taller than me and came out looking like a gothic superhero… I like dressing up my avatar and coming up with different outfits for her. I don’t think she should be stuck wearing the same thing over and over again.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>– Meili </li></ul></ul>
  31. 31. A proud female writes <ul><li>“ I couldn't help but notice the ‘one-size-fits-all’ default shape that was already available for female avatars. It was the typical ‘this is how everyone should look’ avatar shape. Flat belly. Long hair. Everything else normally proportioned. Is this how I'm supposed to look? Is this how I want to look? Do I want to appear like everyone else? Nope. I automatically began customizing my avatar— adjusting the stomach, boobs, butt, hair, transforming it into me.” – Shauna </li></ul>
  32. 32. Some endorse traditional standards of beauty <ul><li>“My avatar is a thinner, hipper version of me, complete with long hair, a cool shirt, tight jeans and flip-flops. It’s myself in a thinner form (and yes, of course I wish I was thinner, don’t we all?).” </li></ul><ul><li> – Christine </li></ul>
  33. 33. Many choose to play it safe <ul><li>“ I always joke that I would love to be a man for a day and I could have lived this desire through my avatar… But, I chose not to. I don’t know why [I didn’t].” </li></ul><ul><li>-Stephanie </li></ul>
  34. 34. One student did gender switch <ul><li>“ I chose a male for my appearance because my greatest fantasy is to become a male. Now this does not mean that I am lesbian or I want to go through surgery to become a man… I [just] decided to use this chance to become a ‘guy.’” </li></ul><ul><li> –” H” </li></ul>
  35. 35. “ H” as a blond, Goth male.
  36. 36. Several weeks later, students were assigned to alter their avatar’s appearance Student before… And after.
  37. 37. When asked to reflect on changing an avatar’s appearance <ul><li>Most students responded with something akin to Leslie’s, “ As long as I am comfortable with how my avatar is set up, then everything is good.” </li></ul><ul><li>Others aligned with Shauna: “It'll be interesting to see how people may perceive/acknowledge me through different fashion styles and physical features.” </li></ul>
  38. 38. By the numbers <ul><li>All but one selected avatars to coincide with their real world gender. </li></ul><ul><li>Most (27) chose avatars that coincide with their real world race. </li></ul><ul><li>Approximately one quarter (8) chose avatars that challenge the “norm” in standards of beauty or physical form. </li></ul>
  39. 39. Initial conclusions <ul><li>Second Life mimics the real world in that it is impossible (or irresponsible) to make universal conclusions about all users. </li></ul><ul><li>Despite the freedom to create anew without real world repercussions, users by and large obey social norms and mores re: sense of self, avatar self-image. </li></ul>
  40. 40. Initial conclusions, continued <ul><li>Still, conceptually, users are more willing to be metacognitive about their self-image inworld, and hence, their real world image and fashion choices. </li></ul><ul><li>They need to watch themselves as avatars, and then take the time to be reflective in their journaling to consider what they do and why. It is only the writing that provides the methodology for the metacognitive act. </li></ul>
  41. 41. A challenge is levied; questions remain <ul><li>We must consider communications using texts and corporeal dialogism as new literacies. </li></ul><ul><li>We must value critical thinking and reflective writing about these literacies. </li></ul><ul><li>What issues arise if generations of young (and not-so-young) adults continue to (re)create themselves according to idealized images of traditional Western beauty standards? </li></ul><ul><li>Will the increased use of projected and virtual avatars have an impact on the users’ “real world” personalities? </li></ul>
  42. 42. Laura Nicosia Assistant Prof. English Director of English Education Montclair State University, NJ [email_address]
  43. 43. Appendix Slides
  44. 44. NCTE standards for Multimodal & Multiple Literacies
  45. 45. Declarations concerning the unique capacities and challenges of digital forms <ul><li>“ There are increased cognitive demands on the audience to interpret the intertextuality of communication events that include combinations of print, speech, images, sounds, movement, music, and animation. Products may blur traditional lines of genre, author/audience, and linear sequence.” </li></ul>Multimodal Literacies NCTE statement Nov. 2005

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