Networked Urbanism and the Reflexive Recursive Space of Virtual Worlds

TitleNetworked Urbanism and the Reflexive Recursive Space of Virtual Worlds
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Smith, D. H.
Affiliation (1st Author)Communication Studies & Multimedia, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, CAN
Section or WGAudience Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeAUDW3a
Slot Code (Keyword)AUDW3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleAudience Activities in the Age of Mediated Urbanism
Submission ID5836

PANEL: Audience Activities in the Age of Mediated UrbanismThis paper considers the intersection of urbanism and digital culture to theorize a model of networked urbanism in which media technologies are formative of new iterations of urban agency. I discuss the theoretical issues and historical precedents implicated in the articulation of urbanism and digital culture, and extend this theoretical discussion to the practical case of a designed virtual world for artistic and scientific collaboration, macGRID Art & Cyberscience Network. Historical precedents informing the current research include artist networks and artist-run centers of the late 1960s and early 1970s that sought to bridge and democratize scientific, technological and artistic endeavors. Avatar virtual world media interaction allows users to consciously and externally re-enact processes of information definition and design that are beyond their ability to control in their neurobiology and geographical environment. When concepts are pried loose from the grip of actuality, when they are imposed onto matter, whether it is mammoth tusk ivory or 3D graphics, a realm of re-cognition is entered that calls forth reflection and enables the revision and re-selection of bounded knowledges. As Ridell (2010) argues, a political critique of the ongoing production of urban space requires the symbolization of its invisible grounds, a deliberate act of representation that is inherently reflexive, seeking not to deliver content but infrastructure to consciousness. I argue that the recursive nature of virtual and physical worlds is an iteration of the conservation of prior forms of social organization––modes of production of social space––in the networked urbanism of digital culture. This is perhaps the source of their appeal for artistic and scientific innovators: Virtual worlds are fluid media environments that may be used to reflexively extend and enhance what is actualized in the real world and to replenish and renew its virtual realm via synecdoche hybrid figures––the avatar (the mediated user), the prim (the mediated primitive object), the sim (the mediated world). From an audience research perspective, the extension and remediation of socio-cultural environments in virtual worlds has the potential to introduce reflexive critical perspectives on the role of physical and media/technological infrastructures in the construction of urban agency. Contrary to perspectives that dialectically oppose cyberspace to physical space, and virtual interaction to face-to-face interactions, I draw upon the literature of urbanism, virtual worlds, and historic artist networks to argue that virtual world communities, such as macGRID, extend, and are reciprocally articulated, with contemporary urban processes. I propose that networked urbanism in the reflexive recursive space of virtual worlds is both the reworking of embodied social forms of urbanism and the manifestation of new urbanite forums. Further, awareness of the nature and history of this articulation may be productively used to inform design and scholarly criticism of these emerging virtual forums of knowledge production and artistic creation.

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