For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a sense of disembodiment, of disconnect between my body and self, and a repulsion to corporeality, bodies, flesh – mouths in particular. But the strange thing about repulsion in anthropology is that it’s thoroughly transfixing: the more discomfort you feel, the more you want to interrogate it. Why do I feel like this? Where does this repulsion originate? How do other people, other cultures, conceive the self in relation to the body? What is a “body”? How does it differ to a “person”? This interest didn’t fully consolidate until my second year, when I took Paul Green’s subject Engaging the World in Theory and Practice (now Self, Culture and Society) which focuses heavily on personhood. One of the readings was Tom Boellstorff’s ethnography Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, and it transformed my repulsion toward bodies into something productive: an anthropological topic of study.
Boellstorff’s ethnographic exploration of virtual worlds totally displaced my static assumptions of “the field” and what “doing anthropology” looked like. Online virtual multiplayer games and communities furnish entirely new conceptions of embodiment and personhood, and concomitantly new ways of studying people, subjectivity and what it means to be human. So, I see my interest in the avatar-populated realms of video games and online networks as a product of an existing aversion to physical bodies and a fascination with virtual bodies induced by anthropology.
Yet in all the ten-year life plans I produced as a kid, anthropology never crossed my mind. The plan was to move interstate from Sydney, major in Ancient World Studies at Melbourne and become an archaeologist. Then I took that decisive first-year anthropology subject – yes, the very one you’re enrolled in now – and things started to veer off-track.
I guess it’s kind of funny how it turned out: one of my majors focuses on the ancient cultures and civilisations of millennia past, but my anthropological interests lie in the futuristic cultures of the virtual realm. Their convergence led me to my Honours thesis, which investigates how video games set in the ancient past express particular assumptions or narratives borne out of Western imperial discourse (what one might term “hegemonic discourse” – the story told by the dominant class). This is a kind of rhetoric executed through visual representations, gameplay, design and structure.
I can’t think of any other discipline that is as vast and diverse and consistently interesting as anthropology – just look at everyone’s thesis topics! I love listening to people talk about their research because it’s always fascinating, even if it’s just the most mundane and commonplace thing reconsidered in a new way. I’m particularly interested in pushing the boundaries of what anthropology is and what anthropologists can do. From me, you can expect articles on personhood, virtual realms and posthumanism, as well as precarity and peripheral labour, including the trafficking of antiquities.