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Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human Paperback – 11 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (11 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691146276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691146270
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 402,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Winner of the 2009 Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Ecology of Culture, Media Ecology Association
Honorable Mention for the 2008 PROSE Award in Media and Cultural Studies, Association of American Publishers
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

"The gap between the virtual and the physical, and its effect on the ideas of personhood and relationships, is the most interesting aspect of Boellstorff's analysis. . . . Boellstorff's portrayal of a virtual culture at the advent of its acceptance into mainstream life gives it lasting importance, and his methods will be a touchstone for research in the emerging field of virtual anthropology."--David Robson, Nature

"Boellstorff applies the methods and theories of his field to a virtual world accessible only through a computer screen....[He] spent two years participating in Second Life and reports back as the trained observer that he is. We read about a fascinating, and to many of us mystifying, world. How do people make actual money in this virtual society? (They do.) How do they make friends with other avatars? The reader unfamiliar with such sites learns a lot--not least, all sorts of cool jargon...Worth the hurdles its scholarly bent imposes."--Michelle Press, Scientific American

"Boellstorff's book is full of fascinating vignettes recounting the blossomings of friendships and romances in the virtual world, and musing fruitfully on questions of creative identity and novel problems of etiquette."--Steven Poole, Guardian

"If you thought a virtual world like Second Life was a smorgasbord of experimental gender swaps, nerd types engaging in kinky sex or entrepreneurs cashing in on real world money making possibilities, think again. . . .Could Boellstorff be right that we're all virtual humans anyway, viewing the world as we do through the prism of culture?"--New Scientist

"Boellstorff's anthropologist's insight into advanced societies helps us to see them anew."--Art Review

"Where many of his colleagues insist on making a mystery of things that are straightforward (so to neglect mysteries real and pressing), Boellstorff is a likeable, generous, accessible voice. . . . This book, once it gets down to it, does truly offer a detailed and deeply interesting investigation of Second Life."--Grant McCracken, Times Higher Education

"Boellstorff makes important contributions to ethnographic theory and method while providing a fascinating excursion into a virtual world, Second Life, inhabited by graphic manifestations of real-life people who interact with one another in localized parts of a vast virtual landscape that they themselves have largely created. . . . In classic anthropological fashion, Boellstorff entered Second Life, conducted ethnographic research within it as an avatar, and has written a vivid, highly engaging account of that world for real-life readers."--A. Arno, Choice

"While it is geared toward anthropologists, the book will be of interest to a wide general audience, with the caveat that it may be helpful to keep a dictionary handy to decode some jargon. . . . [Tom Boellstorff] provides us with a solid foundation for important discussions about he value of technology in our everyday lives."--Peter Crabb, Centre Daily Times

"This is a remarkable book. Tom Boellstorff has successfully achieved the extremely difficult task of writing a book that will appeal equally to the general reader and scholar alike. Coming Of Age In Second Life is well written, very well researched and whilst it does not get bogged down in academic detail and theory, it does provide reference to such theories that undergird the author's research."--Rob Harle, Metapsychology

"One can almost guarantee this book will become one of those contemporary classics in anthropology that travel beyond the discipline as well."--Marilyn Strathern, European Legacy

"The book is absolutely invaluable for anyone who wants to understand what's happening with virtual worlds. Like the very best of ethnography, it transports; it is classically thick with descriptions of everything from the linguistic and the proxemic to the metaphysical and the erotic."--Christopher M. Kelty, Current Anthropology

"The monograph is an elegant tribute to the relevance and strengths of anthropology in the study of virtual worlds, a field of growing social significance that younger generations in particular are keen to investigate more fully. This was evident when I introduced the book to students in a recent course on digital anthropology, who could relate it to their own online every day experiences. As one of the early Internet ethnographers, I can but appreciate Boellstorff's efforts in strengthening this important domain of research, while crafting analytical tools with which to better understand the virtual essence of the human condition, as exposed to us through Internet-mediated virtual worlds."--Paula Uimonen, Social Anthropology

From the Back Cover

"Tom Boellstorff describes Second Life warmly and intelligently, highlighting its issues in a thought-provoking manner that is always backed up with evidence. There's an almost tangible depth to his analysis that makes it really stand out. This is just the kind of portrait of a virtual world that I've been waiting to see for years: a full-blooded, book-length tour de force."--Richard A. Bartle, author of Designing Virtual Worlds

"This is the first book to take a sustained look at an environment like Second Life from a purely anthropological perspective. It is sure to become the basis for a new conversation about how we study these spaces. It is impossible to read this book and not come away asking questions about how our lives are being transformed in very real ways by what is happening in the virtual."--Douglas Thomas, author of Hacker Culture

"Taking the bold step of conducting ethnographic fieldwork entirely 'inside' Second Life, Tom Boellstorff invites readers to meditate on the old and new meanings of the virtual and the human. He presses the inventive and compelling claim that anthropologists would do well to imagine culture itself as already harboring the notion of the virtual. Boellstorff argues that being 'virtually human' is what we have been all along."--Stefan Helmreich, author of Silicon Second Nature

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 28 Feb. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the best books on 'what it is like' to inhabit virtual worlds. People who have already invested time in virtual worlds may not like the book. It discusses very mundane issues such as lag, idling and multi-charactering. Boellstorff's subtle analysis and writing style, however, makes reading it a delight. This is not editorial or autobiographical. This is well-reasoned and grounded research. As such, it may not interesting for those looking to be entertained by the wild lives of avatars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Devi on 3 April 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author's title, with its nod to Margaret Mead's classic _Coming of Age in Samoa'_, is a succinct description of his contribution: a competent description and analysis of a culture using standard Malinowskian ethnographic procedure. Importantly, he provides 27 pages of well-argued methodological justification for his approach, after an up-to-date history of the field; this is followed by chapters on the ways in which Place and Time; Personhood; Intimacy; and Community are construed within Second Life. Chapters on Political Economy, and the relationship between virtual and non-virtual worlds, complete the book. Text: 249pp, Glossary 4pp, Notes 16pp, References 31pp, Index 14pp. Thoroughly enjoyable while methodologically sound.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Yes, academic, but very good 10 July 2008
By Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I felt obliged to respond after reading prior reviewers who gave this average ratings. Fair enough to be disappointed in this if, for some reason, you expected it to be an light-weight page-turner intended for Second Life residents.

This *is* an academic book by a professor of anthropology who uses plenty of footnotes. The target audience does *not* consist of those already well familiar with the intricacies of social customs in Second Life. And yes, there are references to anthropological thinkers throughout. Some of us actually like that kind of thing.

For its target audience, this is a great book. There are a limited number of academic books that treat the subject of contemporary virtual worlds carefully, thoughtfully, and well. This one really stands out as a study based on extensive ethnographic research and a firm grasp of the available literature. In my opinion, the audience is not just anthropologists, but anyone with a college degree and a serious interest in Second Life as a novel medium for social interaction. The style is educated, but accessible, and it is full of entertaining anecdotes and observations.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A Future Classic 13 Sept. 2008
By Debbora Battaglia - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Writing as an anthropologist, I am deeply impressed by Tom Boellstorff's description of SecondLife "from an avatar's point of view," and by its clear and coherent engagement with theories of self, personhood, and "cyberworlding" generally speaking. I taught this book in a senior seminar on Cultural Identities/Differences, and while it was a reach for some students, it sparked a rich conversation about the ethics of identity-play and its flesh-world consequences, virtual self-enhancement and its relation to self-abnegation, the politics of corporate and individual authorship of persons, the valuation of social memory and purposeful forgetting in online/offline community "bleed through," and how creativity is problematized as a practice of consumptive production.

I can think of no field ethnographer who better writes the contemporary moment. In my view, this book is a future classic.

Debbora Battaglia
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Important for anthropologists; patience required from everyone else 13 Jun. 2008
By Mary Ellen Gordon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have really mixed feelings about this book.

On the positive side, I think it will, in time, become an important book. While the title is a take-off on Margaret Mead's book about Samoa, this is quite different in the sense that while Samoans had been around for a long time before Margaret Mead arrived on the scene, the author of this book was a very early resident of Second Life and therefore was an eye witness as it developed. I think that's going to make his first person account valuable as virtual worlds evolve into something very different from what they are today.

There are also some important insights in the book that are well-known to Second Life participants, but probably have not received the external attention that they deserve. Two examples that come to mind are his points about the kindness SL residents routinely extend to one another and the extent of multi-channel communication.

Regarding the former point, the media gives a lot of attention to the more salacious aspects of virtual worlds, but what participants know is that those things are the exceptions. What doesn't get enough attention is the fact that virtual worlds are full of people helping one another -- whether that's to learn new skills or cope with some real life problem.

With respect to the latter point, as the book explains and SL participants know, it's really common for multiple conversational threads to be happening in SL simultaneously -- sometimes via the same method (e.g., all in local chat) and other times not (e.g., a speaker giving a presentation using voice with attendees having multiple conversations about the presentation as it is happening using local chat, group IMs, or individual IMs). Edward Castronova's Book "Exodus to the Virtual World" argues that habits and expectations that are formed in the virtual world will eventually find their way to the real (or actual) world, and I believe those changes in patterns of communication are an example of where that's very likely.

On the negative side, I have to agree with the person who observed that the book seems very much targeted toward other anthropologists. That's true in terms of the content as well as the writing style. A lot of space is devoted to justification of the phenomena being studied and the method being used. While that's certainly appropriate in a scholarly article, in book form it felt pretty tedious (particularly given that anyone who buys the book probably already accepts that virtual worlds are a valid thing to study and ethnography is a valid means of studying them).

The writing is also hard work. In my opinion, it's unnecessarily verbose, and distracts from the content rather than helping to elucidate it. I suspect a lot of people will lose patience with it, and that's a shame because, as mentioned previously, there are some important insights in the book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Luddites Review 21 Feb. 2009
By Sniff Code - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that at first I thought an anthropological study of Second Life seemed a bit pre-mature, if not pretentious. I dunno. It just didn't seem to warrant that much attention since, until recently, my perspective on Second Life was that it was a piece of internet novelty and nothing more.
But my opinion about that and this book has changed.

First of all, I believe this book is important for people like myself who have never made so much as a binary print in the virtual landscape and yet still find themselves curious. People who have a daily diet of Second Life may be put off by the arms length academic tone of the book, but I'm not sure that the book is written for them. I feel as if I'm the audience, since every page is news to me and all of the descriptions did a more than ample job at satisfying my curiosities. My aging friend who is a college professor, and Second Life skeptic, would devour this book. He has no interest in joining Second Life, but he does asks questions about it. Mostly because he hears so much talk about it from his students. I also think people who have been following the ideas of Ray Kurzweil will also find this book helpful, since a lot of the psychology discussed in these pages speaks to the larger topics of Mind Transfer. At first, the digitization of "Mind" (whatever that is) was just fun pseudo-scientific speculation. But when the author begins to talk about "immersion" and the selfhood and all of its quiddities being projected into this environment, I began to wonder if this is the precursor to all of that futurist babble.

There was another book that made me rethink this one: "Being Virtual" by Davey Winder. Winder's book, which is much more anecdotal instead of academic, personalizes the leap into Second Life by offering a back story for each person characterized in his book. These two books paired together actually broke through the bias that I once held against simulated identities and environments. I won't say that this anthropological book brought me any closer to joining Second Life. But it's pulled me as far as could be expected out of the dark. And now it's in my library. An odd addition for a Luddite like myself.

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Serious Academic Study of SecondLife 14 Aug. 2008
By N. Hewlett - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was a joy to read a book about SecondLife where I kept nodding my head instead of gnashing my teeth. The chapters describing SL activities and social conventions rang true to me and focused on the things I love about SL - it's culture of community, sharing, and friendship. The author obviously knows SL well and loves being here.

It was also a joy to find a serious academic study about SecondLife. There aren't many of them out there yet, and a lot of the existing ones seem to be written by people who have only a nodding acquaintance with SL.

This book should be required reading for anyone who is considering using SecondLife as a platform for social research. The author draws heavily upon his knowledge about ethnographic traditions and his previous fieldwork in Indonesia, in order to place his fieldwork in SL into proper perspective. He does a good job of describing how his study was conducted and the ethical principles he employed while doing it.

If you are looking for sensational stories about genderbending or online sex, you probably won't find them here. If you need help learning how to use SecondLife or how to make money there, buy a different book. But if you would like to take a thoughtful look at the way people behave online during the early days of virtual worlds, this is the book for you.
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