94.5 Exploring the nature, problematics and ethics of social activism for the disabled in virtual 3D worlds

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:33 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Geraldine BLOUSTIEN , Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Denise WOOD , Communication, Information and Languages, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Drawing on an ethnographic study of individuals and communities in Second Life who are engaged in social activism and thinking through a Deleuzean perspective of subjectivity (Deleuze  and Guattari 1987; Deleuze 1997; Hickey-Moody and Wood 2008; Hickey-Moody, 2009), this paper explores the ways in which visual representations in the form of avatars might be used to challenge conventional media representations of otherness and difference particularly in the field of physical disability. Many associations around the world use the 3D world of Second Life (SL) to educate, raise and increase awareness of social problems. As part of this strategy they frequently garner and coordinate support and fund raising events. Recent examples concerning health literacy include the collaboration between the United Nations and the Aimee Weber Studio (www.aimeeweber.com) to bring the UN Millennium Development Goal to SL with the aim of increasing the global reach of their struggle to eradicate poverty. Perhaps, even more importantly, many grassroots communities themselves have used 3D virtual worlds such as SL to re-assert and reclaim their own sense of identity often in opposition to the limiting quotidian definitions of ‘otherness’ and difference, where ‘some ‘bodies are more able than others’ .  The particular focus here will be on communities self-defined through aspects of disability. One such is Virtual Ability, a unique orientation centre for SL residents offering a training course made especially for people with real life disabilities. While the aim of such organisations is to make the Internet immersive ( ie virtual worlds) accessible  and useful to disabled individuals, they are not unproblematic and their presence and tactics often lead to renewed debates and political controversies about how otherness should be represented to those both inside and out side of the particular groupings.