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Virtual selves in virtual worlds: towards the development of a social psychological understanding of the self in contemporary society

Evans, Simon (2015) Virtual selves in virtual worlds: towards the development of a social psychological understanding of the self in contemporary society. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Digital technology has given opportunities for multiple experiences of Self in contemporary society. Implications for this “Virtual Self” were investigated using “Second Life”, a digital virtual world with an avatar population of 42 million. The research spanned a period of almost 5 years, adopting a digital ethnographic approach, emphasising the virtual world user perspective, and adapting conventional research procedures. It employed frameworks that emphasise the individual in context, such as Symbolic Interaction and Activity Theory, and investigated five aspects of the Virtual Self: representation, activity, processes, the intersection of social worlds, and trajectory. 64 participants were followed, some over the whole period, yielding 150 hours of interview data across five sets and a total of 92 procedures. Individual interviews and group discussions were held within a purpose-built virtual research centre, while Subjective Evidence-Based Ethnographic procedures were conducted in the physical world to directly access participants’ experiences. All research was informed by participant observation in Second Life, with inductive Thematic Analyses used to reveal findings. There are five main results. First, Virtual Self representation can be characterised as a succession of milestones: “name and avatar choice”, “profile construction”, “recording”, “refinement”, “avatar change”, “begin again”, and “stability”. Second, a “Player Taxonomy” has been constructed defining users as members of at least one of the following categories: Extensionist, Experimenter, Gamer, Resource User, Alternative Seeker, and Cynic. Third, a Virtual Self Processes Model has been constructed, illustrating how Virtual Self experience is contingent on Self-virtual world reflection, and Self-Other/ Self-virtual world/ virtual-physical world interactions. Fourth, Virtual Self experience is contingent on the mediation of technology in a corelationship between the physical and virtual realms. Finally, a Matrix of Player Timelines has been constructed, which indicates how the Virtual Self emerges from multiple trajectories relating to experience of the virtual world and Self, relationships and interactions with others, and the virtual world in context. Overall, despite the potential for multiple Selves and experiences through digital media, the contemporary individual actively integrates virtual and physical experiences using multiple identities, from which emerges a Self that for them is unified and coherent.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Simon Evans
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Lahlou, Saadi

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