A Modest Avatar?

ajs248's picture

This podcast seeks to complicate Bruno Latuour's suggestion that "Science made is nature undone." I explore the intersection between Taylor's figuring of the avatar and Haraway's re-figuring of the modest witness as they relate to identity formation and agency. Ultimately, I ask in what ways is Taylor's avatar an embodiment of Haraway's modest witness? And in which way has the avatar not yet been able to escape, what I call, the body trap?

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SeNrAbWiSe's picture

Spaces, Embodiments, and Humanism

A great final podcast. I'm glad you've taken up Haraway and Taylor to work through some of the ideas presented by this week's readings.

I do want to pose one question: do you think Taylor views the avatar as a body the user funnel's their identity into or as an extension of identity altogether? My only issue with your point is that, in lieu of the Haraway text, we can no longer look at embodiment as an occupied space. Rather, I wonder if it is an actual space at all. Talking about avatars as a space in which the self is manifest, I believe, misses the point of Haraway's discussion on the modest witness. This implies that the self is somehow separate from the avatar --that the user's sense of self or subjectivity is not dependent upon the avatar in the first place. Taking up this position means that we must stick with a humanist backbone, which is a position technology would have us look beyond. Put another way, I read Haraway's modest witness as occupying the same space (or at least a very similar space) to what N. Katherine Hayles refers to as the liberal humanist subject. In an oversimplified way, I think Haraway's text works out the ecological stance of the user in a technology-human dwelling (stealing from Bay & Rickert, here). Good job, nonetheless. There really are no right or wrong answers at this point --only more questions.

OrganizedChaos's picture

Gendered Avatars

Great job, Allison. I found the song choice particularly amusing.

I'd like to further complicate your complication by pointing out some of the issues surrounding the use of gender in avatars. Avatars can extend from simple screen names to figures that appear, act, and move as living beings. With respect to the second kind of avatars, an extension of Taylor's assertion that avatars are not all that different from the users, as you say, is to point out that most of these figures are gendered in their appearance.

You can refer to this WoW screenshot for an example: http://net.educause.edu/er/erm08/erm0851_fig4.jpg

While a person from the race of "humans" is pictured here, all of the "races" in WoW are gendered, including elves, dwarves, and even those strange Minotaur-like bull-people (I think they're called Taurans?). This allows the user to actually subsume a gender either the same or different from his or her own. This extra gendered choice further draws out your point that avatars exist in a space apart and allow for instances of retelling.

It also calls up Haraway's emphasis on 16th and 17th century cross-dressing in drama. Such explicitly gendered avatars allow for a performance of gender in a space where the "original" gender of the subject is totally erased. It's as if we're finding new (digital) spaces in which to express old (gender) troubles. As you're saying, this puts users in the situation of being both removed and integrated, modest and highly involved.