Excavating Second Life

When I was a grad student, I remember coming to the common room to find a friend of mine, tearing out his hair. Apparently, someone in his native Norway had just published a substantial article on the exact subject of his MA thesis, meaning he had to change his direction.

I was reminded of him when I opened my in-box this morning to discover that somebody has beaten me to the punch re the archaeology of second life. This is, actually, a good thing. For one, it shows that I’m not out to lunch with this project, and two, that archaeological journals (or at least, the Journal of Material Culture) will publish such work.

So congratulations to Rodney Harrison of the Open University, for his paper:

Excavating Second Life

Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities

Rodney Harrison The Open University, UK, r.harrison@open.ac.uk

While the anthropology of online communities has emerged as a significant area of research, there has been little discussion of the possibilities of the archaeology of virtual settlements, defined here as interactive synthetic environments in which users are sensually immersed and which respond to user input. Bartle (in Designing Virtual Worlds, 2003: 1) has described such virtual settlements as `places where the imaginary meets the real’. In this sense, an examination of the role of heritage in virtual settlements has the potential to shed light on the role of heritage in both `real’ and `imagined’ communities more generally. This article develops the concept of `cyberarchaeology’ (originally devised by Jones in his 1997 article, `Virtual Communities’) to study the virtual material culture of the settlement Second Life, and in particular, its explicit programme of heritage conservation. A survey of heritage places in Second Life suggests that the functions of heritage in virtual settlements may be far more limited than in the actual world, functioning primarily as a structure of governance and control through the establishment of the rationale for (virtual) land ownership and the production of a sense of community through memorials which produce a sense of `rootedness’ and materialize social memory. Such functions of heritage are consistent with recent discussion of the role of heritage in western societies. Nonetheless, this study of heritage and cyber-archaeology provides insights into the ways in which the notions of heritage are transforming in the early 21st century in connection with the proliferation of virtual environments, and the challenge this provides to contemporary society.

Key Words: community • cyber-archaeology • heritage • Second Life • virtual settlements

I look forward to reading this!


4 thoughts on “Excavating Second Life

    1. Yes! I wrote too soon. But it is quite a fascinating piece of work, exploring how ‘heritage’ as conceived in SL is all about cementing the power of the Lindens. I was also intrigued by the comment, ‘there appears to be no intangible heritage in SL’.

      On another note, do you find the word ‘archaeology’ or ‘archaeologies’ gets used an awful lot in ways that might not actually refer to archaeology?

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