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Coming of Age in Second Life:
An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human
Tom Boellstorff
With a new preface by the author

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

Paperback | 2015 | $24.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691168340
344 pp. | 6 x 9 | 24 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400874101 |
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The Anthropological work of Tom Boellstorff
(Video produced by
for the Drax Files World Makers Series)

Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love--the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. At the time of its initial publication in 2008, Coming of Age in Second Life was the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar "Tom Bukowski," and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.

Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself. Now with a new preface in which the author places his book in light of the most recent transformations in online culture, Coming of Age in Second Life remains the classic ethnography of virtual worlds.

Tom Boellstorff is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the coauthor of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (Princeton), and coeditor of Data, Now Bigger and Better!


"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

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