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OxDEG: Ethical Life as Virtual Reality

Date & Time:
15:30 - 17:00,
Monday 23 January, 2023
61 Banbury Road, Oxford


Location: Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 61 Banbury Road, Oxford

In this presentation I argue for a view of ethical life as virtual reality. Through ethnographic analysis of a large and growing group of globally dispersed, female online support group members, I show how a rigid, emic distinction between an ‘online’ and ‘offline’ self is crucial in enabling a two-part process of ethical pedagogical training online in service of a cultivated and curated offline self. I also suggest a conception of ethics as an interface mediating between these two selves and therefore between life-worlds, thereby bringing the anthropology of ethics in conversation with digital anthropology. In doing so, I argue that broad pronouncements against an assumed ontological difference between on and offline selves, and against the pre-assignment of “virtual” and “real” to on and offline worlds, respectively, go against these very ethnographic enactments. Instead, I argue, virtuality occurs through ethical aspirational attempts offline. In so doing, this presentation redresses a frequent slippage in scholarly literature of assigning virtuality to the online and reality to the offline by describing this ethnographic inversion, showing ethnographically what has only hitherto been proposed theoretically.

Speaker: Summer Qassim

Summer Qassim is a Doctoral student in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, where her Doctoral project explores the techniques of “recalibration” used by Euro-American women in the performance of femininity, and their subjective experience of cultivating this femininity amidst other competing values, such as the “floating signifier” of feminism and their comportments in the workplace. She holds an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, an MA in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University, and a BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern History from the University of California, Los Angeles.