Posted by: Randolph Hollingsworth | February 13, 2009

Spring 2008 Courses and Research on UKSL Island

PS 545 American Political Thought

American Political Thought course wiki is, so you can follow along with our progress as the semester goes on if you like. There are group workspaces for the research groups the students are assembling and Avatar Pages for each participant with their multimedia research journal. Their digital fieldwork in The Grid will be part of a project worth 50% of their course grade, and will include keeping an individual journal (with pics, vids and fieldnotes), a group workspace, group research report, and an in-class/in-world group presentation.

Contact Chris Rice, Political Science, (SL: Ricetopher Freenote)


GEO 714 Political Economy and Ethnographic Imagination 2008: Commodities and Realities

This course tours contemporary commodities literature(s), review debates on the nature of commodities and what Luks usefully termed “fetish capitalism”, and ask specifically (as a central seminar theme question) whether and how commodity studies may be stretched to cover the rise of “virtual” commodities. Commodity literatures covered in this course examine the commodity from a variety of angles: for example, as a component of a commodity “chain” or “network”; as a fetish, as a thing with an independent “social life”; as a source of value; as an “identitary” or item giving a certain “distinction” to the user; as an embodied character (as in the case of labor power); as a performed quality (as in theories of scripting and performativity); and as a fulcrum in the reproduction of hegemony.  Ethnographies of the commodity will form the principal course content. Building on classical and contemporary commodity theory, we will read geographic, anthropological and sociological ethnographies focusing on commodities and commodification. The course consists of two main components:  (1)  Participants will review the commodities literature in a series of class readings and participate in weekly discussions of the commodity literature; and, (2) Participants will contribute to a jointly-authored paper on “virtual” commodities. This second course component will take the theoretical and empirical literature on offer in the course and apply it to the case of commodities found in cyberspace, in particular to the problem of “second life” commoditization. Participants will obtain a second life avatar and we will use these interfaces to examine problems of commoditization and discuss how contemporary commodity literature might be adapted to be useful in the theoretical and empirical analysis of virtual commodities. We will consider what “ethnography” would mean in this social environment, and finally discuss how our findings affect larger questions of the commodity – after all, the “money” commodity and many “qualities” attached to commodities already possess many attributes of a virtual cast. Questions may include – but certainly will not be limited to – how virtual commodities create value(s); the roles of “embodiment” and “performance” in consumption/production; links between distinction, desire, and identity politics; commodities and hegemony. Can an ethnography be performed in virtual space?  We will hope to hold at least one seminar meeting in cyberspace, and invite non-local participants to join us in analyzing this medium.  See the course website is at

Contact Tad Mutersbaugh, Geography, (SL: tad Habilis)

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