A while ago Kerim wrote a post on the difference between ‘mining’ and ‘harvesting’ strategies of publication. It touched off a lot of interesting discussion, but lacked a concrete example of what Kerim was talking about. So I wanted to offer one here: how I am mining my World of Warcraft research for publications.
My ultimate goal for my WoW (as World of Warcraft is known) research is a book — now in its third draft. Along the way, however, I am ‘mining’ my research by producing several other publications. The two I want to discuss here are Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (full text is OA — the publisher forget to get me to sign a CTA so I can release the work as I like. They are OK with this). The second is a draft paper I recently gave at a theater studies conference entitled Feeling Powerful and Being Powerful: Virtuosity and Expressive Individualism in World of Warcraft.
If you read these papers, you can see that there are a lot of similarities between them. Both chronicle my work with my guild. Because WoW is way more exotic to Americans then Papua New Guinea (“Black people in a forest? Got it. People killing monsters online? What now?”) I spend a lot of time describing what goes on online. But there are important differences in them as well.
Each paper was written for a different occasion. “Being in WoW” was written for a special issue of Anthropological Quarterly dedicated to ‘knowledge production’. As a result, I felt like I had to shoehorn my piece into that category. “Feeling Powerful” was written for a panel on “Economies of Showing” and so it had to be fit into that category. Ironically, the panel organizers just wanted to do something on ‘showing’ but the conference theme was ‘economics’ so they changed to title to make sure they’d be included.
I think this is a good example of a general phenomena in the life of the mind: you are always thinking, thinking thoughts that are very abstract and in flux. Then particular occasions arise and they act like molds that you pour your molten thoughts into.
The papers address their occasion, but they don’t pander to it. They both reach through their occasions to address wider points in the literature I’m addressing.
“Being in WoW” made two and half points: first, it argued against the idea that virtual worlds were compelling because they looked ‘real’. Rather, I argued that they were compelling because they were places where people could socialize. Second, I took issue with the idea that we ought study virtual worlds ‘on their own terms’ and do ‘the culture’ of ‘a world’. Rather, I argued that virtual ethnography should study communities of people and how those communities used multiple spaces, some real and some virtual, to create themselves. My half point was that Coming of Age in Second Life legitimated ‘the culture’ of ‘a world’ ethnography by comparing it to ethnography of the Pacific, and as a Pacifcist I pointed out that this was a lousy description of how Pacific Islanders and Pacificists actually thought of themselves and their cultures.
“Feeling Powerful” made a series of related, but different points: that success in WoW affirm’s player’s ego ideals, that a virtual space affects actual personalities, and that this is what we should expect given that American WoW players have a western culture of ‘expressive individualism’. One reason WoW is so popular is because it is a place where this dynamic is powerfully performed. Once we realize this, we can see it is more compelling a virtual world than Second Life: Second Life was built around Western presumptions that all human beings want to be creative artists, which I argue is not true — romantic creation is just one species of expressivity. For this reason we should expect to see SL fascinate Americans because it speaks to their culturally-laden perceptions about what people want out of life, but more Americans to actually play WoW, which actually gives it to them. And this is in fact exactly what we see.
Basically, both of these papers make the same broad claims, but they differ in the specific points they make, the audiences they address, and the concrete data they use. In the final book version a lot of this material will be incorporated. The ethnographic exposition will be all the better for having been written and revised mutliple times, and I’ll be better able to make my points better because I’ve already made them in ‘rough draft’ form in the published articles. Best of all, the length of the book will allow me to connect them together and to add a broader overview since details on these arguments can just be cited in the book, rather than made there.
There are some people who feel you should ‘never present the same paper twice’ and I think that this is true. There is also reason to be cynical of the culture of ‘minimally significant differences’ used by people who make minor tweaks to present the same basic paper at different conferences over and over again. However, taking the same project and turning it over and over again to fit the situation and as part of creating a larger and more integral work is good academic practice — as well as good for the CV — if you can take different bits of data from your fieldwork and slot it in to whatever intellectual preoccupation you have that fits the occasion.