One of my graduate students shared this with me yesterday:
The idea that people can use virtual worlds in order to communicate towards emancipatory goals is interesting and supported by many of Habermas, Chomsky, and Focault’s claims about the power of language to free people from tyranny, especially when they are not politically free.
My question with technology is always whether and what it is doing differently to enable communication that other tools currently available are not. From what I understand from the article here and other readings is that people in the Middle East are using SL to build their own mosques and religiously free spaces to practice their religion as they prefer. In that respect, I see great benefits for emancipating people in countries where freedom of religion is not available, even to the point of being forced to adhere to one sect or another. We hear a lot about Twitter, Facebook and other social media being used to communicate and organize political protest, but virtual worlds for such organization is new to me.
I understand how restrictive some Middle Eastern countries can be about religion. As a child, my family lived in Saudi Arabia for about a year. During that time, there were permissible religious expressions by certain groups like British Anglicans who had a school I attended briefly. For my parents who were not Anglican, they were forced to take us to church in a gymnasium on a German compound where the local religious enforcers could not easily come in to inspect. Further, they showed children’s movies so that the whole scene could be instantly made to appear secular in case someone with religious authority arrived, which did happen from time to time. It was strange, and I’m sure what my folks and their peers did was viewed with a wink and a nod by religious authorities. However, I’m not sure and should talk to them about it to get their perspective.
So, virtual worlds are being used to enable communication (text, visual information) in places where governments and religious groups cannot censor them, which is quite interesting. I would be very much into looking at what kinds of communication (strategic, constative, normative, dramaturgical) goes on in the virtual spaces and to what degree they are emancipatory religiously the way that there are claims they are supporting political emancipation. Are the people organizing within the virtual worlds open to dialogue and argumentation about fundamental beliefs or is it simply a space to practice accepted beliefs and organize political action? Is it a place to learn and teach or simply a place for practice? Is it being used to develop communities of practice in Lave and Wenger’s (1991) conception around political struggle or are these simply communities of interest replicating existing beliefs and systems in the Marxist conception of replication of the base and superstructure (Bernstein, 1976)?
I have many questions and need to do a lot more reading on this snowy, icy day in Denton.
Bernstein, R. J. (1976). The restructuring of social and political theory (6th Paperback ed.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.