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Performing Virtualities

Two-day postgraduate workshop under the auspices of the Virtual Society? programme

2nd-3rd May 2000

Brunel University
Middlesex UB8 3PH
+44 (0)1895 203 111
+44 (0)1895 203 155 (fax)

In the rapidly changing field of new technologies, from the internet to highstreet banking facilities, much is made from notions of the virtual, the real and the performance of both. But what can be said to be real or virtual, how can such a distinction be drawn and who is able to make these arguments?

The key challenge of this postgraduate workshop is to take up knowledge and knowledge production as fields in which to scrutinise notions of 'the virtual' and 'the real'. More precisely, questions must be asked of how the virtual as well as the real are performed in relation to technologies, our use and understanding of them.

The workshop will look at how different knowledge claims might be associated with the virtual and the real in particular situations. Within this framework it can be argued that in many cases the distinction between reality and virtuality seemingly holds strong as a strict binary between the factual and the simulated. Why, for example, is CCTV predominantly read as a simulated performance? Alternative readings, like CCTV as providing 'real' knowledge of eye-witness' accounts, seems to be frequently sanctioned.

Yet there are many more ways in which both the real and the virtual seem to be performed in relation to knowledge. In online public participation projects, for example, it is often assumed that knowledge claims about 'real life' users can be unproblematically made via virtual worlds. In other words, in such projects a difference between reality and virtuality does not seem to be made. What could such a collapse of the distinction imply? Yet research into online worlds, webcams etc. has shown that virtual lives can also revise assumptions made about 'real life'. The question, then, is how virtual life might alter or, perhaps, augment real life?

Performing the virtual is an accomplishment, it is about enrolling others. This can be seen in, for example, virtual organisations like the virtual university which cannot exist without the involvement of elements as real and diverse as academic staff, students, departments, service units, etc.. But what happens when the desire for the virtual cannot become reality, because there is no funding, no agreement on copyrights, students resist the virtual, and so on? It seems then that virtuality as an accomplishment is also prone to fail, perhaps precisely because it is performed. What does it take, then, to be able to perform the virtual 'successfully'?

The workshop sets out to address these kinds of questions. It also aims to look at how we, as researchers in the becoming, perform both the virtual and the real in our work. On a methodological plane, then, the workshop aims to investigate questions of representation, authenticity, and possible new approaches to methodology which could be thought through by looking, for example, at ethnographic work in/on virtual settings.

The keynote speakers have amassed a great deal of experience in researching the above set of questions - each from a different discipline, each on a completely different topic. Daniel Miller (UCL, London), Rob Shields (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), Lucy Suchman (XEROX, Palo Alto Research Center, CA) and Nina Wakeford (University of Surrey, Guildford) will share their ideas on the performances of the real and the virtual with the workshop participants.

By focusing on discussion and exchange, this postgraduate workshop hopes to stimulate and help the participants in their own work. It is designed to be intensive and diverse and thus requires a small, interdisciplinary group. The workshop format intends to maximise active participation:

  • Paper by keynote speaker (45 minutes)

  • Comments by 3 participants (10 minutes each)
  • Small group discussions (45 minutes)

Performing Virtualities takes place in Cumberland Lodge (Windor) and is organised by Andrea Buchholz, Daniel Neyland and Marike van Harskamp. 

Workshop programme and papers
Pictures of the workshop
Workshop participants



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Page developed and maintained by Marike van Harskamp
Contents current at 9th May 2000