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The text analyses identities within virtual on-screen environments. Investigating regions in Second Life, it explores topical issues of the body in virtual space, nature and mythology in virtual environments, and the key arguments surrounding normative and subversive representations of gender, sexuality and subversion in screen-based environments.




This book is about the construction of identity in digitised and virtual screen environments. It investigates the phenomenon of three-dimensional virtual worlds (3DVEs) in relation to our physical, or corporeal, selves. Using four regions of Second Life as a foundation of analysis, this book explores the issues surrounding the body, embodiment, virtual space and tourism, as well as examining notions of subversion as they relate to gender and sexuality in screen environments. The key arguments put forth in this work have their foundations in poststructuralist theories of the body and the cultural construction of identity, which follow a thematic application of discourse analysis within each chapter as a basis for critiquing Western screen culture. Most important to this analysis are the cultural and social conditions that replicate dominant paradigms of power and agency as they are applied to representational practices, such as embodying oneself via an avatar through the screen. Although mainly focused on Second Life, the arguments in this book are readily extendable to other on-screen environments due to the proliferation of 3DVEs and other social networks which are premised on real-time engagement through digitised and representational interaction.

Jude Elund

1. Embodiment, Virtual Experience and the Body: Possibilities for Subversion?

The focus of this chapter is to contextualise notions of the body as well as the space it inhabits. The body, seen from the discipline/s of cultural studies, is a political object that has inscribed onto it history, culture, society, sexuality, violence and power. It is our central point of understanding of both ourselves and the outside world, and so carries with it both history and the present, as well as the future. It is also through this field of enquiry that both feminism and queer theory are situated vis-à-vis each other, often in uneasy acknowledgement of the politics and usefulness of the other (whilst the fields of theory often disagree about the scope of fluidity of the gendered and sexed self). Whilst cyberspace and virtual worlds may seem initially to be very different forms of space from those experienced in the corporeal, they operate in much the same way, using the same foundational codes and conventions of the real. This is an extension of Lefebvre’s, and other spatial theorists’, contentions that space is produced through ideological investments, and thus reinforces discursive power structures. In addition to embodiment, gender and sexuality are considered as having spatial dimensions, which produces tensions within a world built on fantasy that looks to offer alternative notions of equality and engagement. The SL platform itself, being user-generated, appears as a promising platform for alternative spatial construction, and therefore spatial discourse, by permitting different forms of embodiment as well as having no established rules for building, constructing and articulating space.

Jude Elund

2. Tourism: Island Utopias in the Virtual Sun

Second Life is highly representative of tourism in that an individual embarks on both escapism and fantasy from their CL. In evoking John Urry’s work on the tourist gaze, this chapter is not only an analysis of SL spaces through Urry’s defining terms, but also an extension of a discourse about a physical phenomenon to the virtual. The virtual environment of SL is similar in function to CL tourist spaces due to the evocation of the gaze and the transportation to another environment, outside the realms of work and domesticity. Urry contends that tourism ‘necessarily involves some movement through space, that is the journeys, and periods of stay in a new place or places’ (2002, p. 12), and that places are chosen because of ‘intense pleasures, either on a different scale or involving different senses from those customarily encountered’ (2002, p. 3). So, although there are obvious corporeal differences in how the space is experienced, virtual environments evoke many of the same phenomena of CL travel and tourism. Moreover, Urry and Larsen (2011, p. 2) contend that ‘[G]azing at particular sights is conditioned by personal experiences and memories and framed by rules and styles, as well as by circulating images and texts of this and other places.’ This is particularly important in the consideration of virtual space and the foundations of looking that we bring to it, as the images and texts that signify tourist sites are remembered from our own photographs of travel as well as well-known texts and images of popular sites.

Jude Elund

3. Intersections in Space, Nature and Mythology

The Lost Gardens of Apollo (Apollo) is an island region that is visually spectacular, featuring mountains, gardens, ornamental buildings and stunning vistas. It is a space that readily evokes Western notions of paradise. By combining visual splendour and fantasy there is a reinscription of power predicated on the Western corporeal tradition. Space and nature are framed by historical and cultural conceptions of masculinity predicated upon patriarchal assumptions. This chapter is an analysis of the island of Apollo through the major categories of space, nature and mythology that reveal a place that is highly masculine and patriarchal in representation. Apollo’s spatial practices reveal a similarity with the corporeal world, even in the knowledge and practice of different forms of embodiment and movement. Space within the virtual is obviously produced, arguably making the power intrinsic to the virtual environment more visible — there is little scope for falling back on natural and essentialist assumptions of the world. Similarly, the natural landscape as represented on Apollo (its mountains, gardens, flora and fauna) is evoked in much the same way as natural features in the CL environment, and so elicits an emotional and mental affect much as the Kantian notion of sublime works in corporeal nature. Exceeding the initial application of Kant’s sublime, the virtual landscape of Apollo traverses several categorisations of the sublime in being dynamic, technological and digital.

Jude Elund

4. Masculinity, Mass Consumerism and Subversive Sex

Whilst the space of Apollo illustrates a homosocial rather than explicitly homosexual space of masculinity, Zeus is unabashed in its representation of gay male sexuality. Zeus can be considered as a meeting and cruising space for non-heterosexual males, and can also be considered as an extension of gay cruising spaces widely available on the internet. This chapter explores notions of gay masculinities, particularly in reference to the prevailing attitudes of sexual conservatism and the growing acceptance of homosexual coupling within CL. It is in many ways a critique of the growing conservatism of queer culture which, through legitimising certain ways of being, has the effect of delegitimising others as incorrect, immature or deviant. The distancing of mainstream gay movements from alternative notions and practices of sexuality is a disservice to those who engage in sex practices outside of normative monogamous coupling. The heterosexual matrix, with its associations with family, maturity and respectability, has become imprinted onto the lives of gay male identities, proffering wider acceptance within society — it is far easier for the public at large to accept images, ideas and ways of being that mirror a predominantly family-centred cultural ethos. By offering the ideal picture of acceptability and success for gay men, there is opportunity to extend the capitalist marketplace to include this new segmentation, albeit on the ideological bases of youth, whiteness and affluence.

Jude Elund

5. The Female Body in Virtual Space

In contrast to the idea that male-designed and populated spaces reinforce patriarchal conditions is the essentialist assumption that spaces designed for and by females should have different spatial goals and outcomes, as well as being utilised in a contrasting manner. This is not always the case, however, due to the implicit foundations of viewing and participatory practices that are inscribed onto space and representation. Eden: The Seduction — a site explicitly for ‘lesbian and bi girls’ — illustrates the conditioned conformity to standardised depictions of femininity, sexuality and the gaze. Although the space purports to be for lesbian and other non-normative female representation, identity and community (Greek Gold Lesbian Resort 2011a), the site actually promotes passive conformity to hetero-patriarchal conventions. For this reason, Eden is a space that cannot be categorised as queer, despite its intentions. Because of the continued marginalisation of non-normatively gendered and sexually diverse individuals, the categories ‘queer’ and ‘queerness’ are framed as having a political purpose, and are not simply a description of alternate sexual practice. Despite the supposed absence of males within Eden, the male gaze becomes reinscribed through the normativity of feminine expression as well as the commodification and sexualisation of the female body.

Jude Elund

6. Subverting Gender

This chapter explores the female-only lesbian space of Greek Gold. It provides a contrast with the space of Eden, as well as many other sites on SL, due to the diverse representations of female avatars within the space which go against the prevailing gender normativity and hyper-gendered embodiment seen elsewhere on SL. Due to the varied expressions of femaleness shown within Greek Gold, it is an excellent site for the exploration of the ideas of gender fluidity and lesbian identities, particularly that of masculinised female performativity. Drawing heavily on Judith Halberstam’s work on the masculine female subject, the analysis of Greek Gold illuminates the fluidity of gender and sexual identity expression, underscoring the premise that gender is not static within the binary of male/female, masculinity/femininity as often accepted within mainstream culture. The virtual environment of Greek Gold is a superb illustration of the performativity of gender as seen in the corporeal, and ultimately subverts the idea that masculine and/or androgynous females want in some ways to be men, thus overturning the notion pathologising gender difference. With the possibilities of embodying a desired or preferred self, the prevailing representation of subversive corporeal gender identities reveals both an acceptance of, and pleasure in, embodying a masculine self as female, thereby removing the default presumption of masculinity to biological maleness.

Jude Elund


The differences between our virtual screen selves and those of our physical, corporeal existence initially seem obvious. The corporeally embodied self is often viewed as a natural state of being, with our perspective, our consciousness, encapsulated within the shell of a physical body On the other hand, virtual personas appear to be something that we build and craft, something that we create ‘out there’ in the world. However, these distinctions are not as definite as they first appear. This is because, as this text has asserted, we perform our corporeal selves and our virtual selves not as disembodied entities but as extensions of ourselves through the screen. Ultimately what is valued in the corporeal world is reflected onto the virtual, so that the search for difference and the potential for re-organised conditions of existence are doubtful. Even in the most Utopian or subversive or transgressive spaces within platforms such as SL, there is a reaffirmation of the dominant paradigms of power and agency. Difference and the performance of another, more desired, self remain within the sphere of the established conditions of existence, most often reaffirming those of the mass-dominant culture which, in consideration of SL, is that of capitalist Western society. What has been particularly revealing when investigating SL for this book has been that the virtual can be so informative about the performative aspects of being.

Jude Elund


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