My current research is centred on the Internet, in particular the phenomenon of online video games, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. I passed my viva with no corrections on December 2013 and concerns an ethnographic study of the game Final Fantasy XIV.
My thesis can be downloaded for free from here.
PhD Title: Performative Identity and Embodiment: An Online Ethnography of Final Fantasy XIV
This thesis explores the performative enactment of identity and embodiment through an online ethnography of the online game Final Fantasy XIV. It is argued that online identity must be viewed as performative, that is, enacted through speech and action, and embodied via the avatar, which acts as a body project for the player. The avatar identity is also constrained by the notion of authentic identity, which denotes how a single body is expected to hold a single identity. The thesis makes contributions to three areas. Firstly, in substantive terms, the thesis contributes original sociological knowledge of online social interaction, drawn from an online game and its related spaces, which remain under-researched sociologically. Secondly, the thesis makes a theoretical contribution through a theoretical framing of how online, embodied identity is achieved in an online game in a performative fashion, which is centred on the body of the avatar, coupled with the speech and actions of the player. Finally, the thesis also offers a methodological contribution through its original use of photo elicitation in online interviews, and furthers the debates around (online) ethnography. An 11 month programme of fieldwork was undertaken, comprising 36 asynchronous, image elicitation interviews, extensive participant observation of the game over the 11 months, and observation of the official forum lasting nearly six months. The thesis concludes that online identity and embodiment in these spaces are heavily constrained by norms drawn from everyday life, such as heteronormativity, and racism. The game design is also influenced by the developers’ norms and values, such as the avatar appearance. The possibilities for performative identity and embodiment are severely constrained by the community, who reify the game space as separate from “real” life and reject the inclusion of non-normative avatars.
My other academic interests are:
- Social policy, especially health.
- Work, notably students and their relationship to work.
- Qualitative social research methods
- Visual sociology
Whose Rights? How Right? Postgraduate Conference
I was also on the student organising committee of the Whose Rights? Conference held at the University on 13th March 2010. This year the theme was around human rights from an interdisciplinary perspective and a wide range of papers were given by postgraduate students. Keynote speakers included Lydia Morris from the University of Essex and Neil Stammers from University of Sussex. The shiny website I designed for the conference can be found here. I was also responsible for advertising the conference through posters such as those below.