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Presence in Virtual Worlds

My research (project manager Dixi Louise Strand) concerned Second Life and ‘presence in virtual worlds’. The object of study was not the IT platform that might provide opportunities for presence, nor the human actors that might experience presence, but what happens when they come together to create an event of presence.

The research aimed to empirically juxtapose sites and situations, specific moments and events in order to explore in detail the specific arrangements and situations in which presence appears and unfolds.

Second Life media center, Pop Art Lab (PAL) was selected as a site in which the notion of presence was, to the researchers first glance, pivotal as its visitors share listening spaces and concert experiences with other visitors in real time. The concept and design are built around the idea that people are there, hear music while they see, share and experience it with others. This single case was thus selected based on an expectation that this was an exemplary site where presence might “appear” and thus be accessible for the researcher.

The empirical study was carried out from October 2009 to June 2010. Methods included participant observation (“hanging out” and event participation), real life observations, semi-structured interviews conducted offline and online, as well as analysis of related webblogs. Analysis was carried out continually throughout the research process. The data material was continuously coded openly drawing on both theoretical concepts and concepts from the field, continually shifting between the empirical material, literature, and discussions with fellow researchers. Analysis drafts have, along the way, been shared with the main informants from PAL and with fellow researchers in the research project.

The methods for both data production and analysis created particular “appearances of presence” that foreground empirically the very practices, events, and situations in which the object of inquiry is handled, made, and re-made. The approach is drawn from actor-network theory and the methodological strategy of taking relationships and networks that constitute objects and subjects as the focus of inquiry (Law 2002; Mol 2003; Latour 2005).

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