Das ethnographische Dokument im Zeitalter seiner Visualisierbarkeit
Emphasizing the discontinuity between virtual reality and the real world, postmodern authors often celebrate the surfer's liberation from the body and from the limitations of space. Others, to the contrary, emphasize the continuity between the real world and virtual reality, arguing that the same power structure governs both worlds. While the first discourse is enthusiastic about the opportunities opened up by new information technologies and computer simulation, the latter fears the loss of coherence and social responsibility in an anonymous virtual world. This article emphasizes neither discontinuity nor continuity: rather, from a semiotic point of view, the author differentiates between computer simulation as a new system of representation (langue) and the practical use of this new technology by surfers (parole). Seen as a system of representation, computer simulation privileges modeling and unstable meanings over stable representations and fixed meanings. On the level of social practice, information technologies create a new field for research on the human/machine interaction. Since the comparison between different systems of representation, as well as different forms of social practice, is at the heart of the anthropological project, the latter should play a crucial role in the field of virtual reality research.
Kathrin Oester, Dr. phil., Ethnologin, Schwerpunktthema: Visuelle Anthropologie.
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