2012-2013 Colloquium Series

Scott MacLeod will present, Naked, Virtual Harbin: An Anthropology of Erotisme and the Touristic Imaginaire

Friday, November 2, 5:00 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall
University of California, Berkeley

In this paper I present an ethnographic interpretation of Harbin Hot Springs in terms of the virtual, as well as the erotic, in the context of the information age, and in terms of an actual place. Harbin Hot Springs is a clothing-optional, New Age community and hot springs’ retreat center in northern California, which began in 1972 in its present form, and is my actual / virtual, ethnographic, field site, about which I’m writing a book, probably to be published next year, tentatively entitled something like "Naked Harbin: Hippies, Warm Pools, Counterculture & Clothing-Optional, Virtual Harbin." In this talk, I come into conversation with two approaches in tourism studies to examining the virtual, and the implications of the internet for this field, - both Dean MacCannell’s analysis in his paper “Virtual Reality’s Place”, as well as my own in a paper I wrote in Nelson Graburn’s class in 2001, entitled “Gazing at the Box: Tourism in the Context of the Internet and Globalization (Internetity).” In my talk here, virtuality primarily refers to something “not physically existing, but created by software to appear to do so,” and thus refers to forms of representation, both symbolic as well as what occurs in people’s bodyminds, thus in our imaginations, in this interpretation. By contrasting the actual with the virtual, through proposing the making of a virtual Harbin in a virtual world, as ethnographic field site for comparison with the actual, I suggest that we can engage participant observation as field method / pool play, in a novel and emergent approach in anthropology. By contrasting the term ‘Techne,’ - roughly as 'making things with technologies,' - which centrally informs Tom Boellstorff’s argument in his “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human” (Princeton 2008) with the term 'information' which is central to my concept of the virtual in my upcoming, “Naked Harbin” book, I privilege Harbin’s warm pool-informed milieu as generative of Harbin’s alternative- or counter-culture, and a kind of virtuality. The polysemic concept ‘culture,’ here as milieu / fluid code, is central to my interpretation of Harbin; Harbin's counterculture is a novel expression of the virtual at actual, on-the-ground Harbin. My thesis in this talk, ethnographically informed via field work which I’m exploring anew in terms of pool play vis-a-vis the significant, Harbin, warm pool, is that the serene, Harbin Hot Springs’ warm pool along with the clothing-optional pool area, as a whole, there, in particular, give rise to the relaxation response / meditation, plenty of naked cuddling over decades, a 1960’s informed, alternative milieu influencing sociality, a kind of biological harmony, communitas and oneness, - all of which are an unique-to-Harbin, virtual experience, and which can be ethnographically examined in a virtual world Harbin in numerous unfolding ways. Residents and visitors to Harbin, each as kinds of tourists, and significantly hippy-informed, engage this Harbin experience, where the erotic permeates the pool area especially, and visitors greatly enjoy / revel in this imaginaire or milieu.

Speaker Bio:
Scott MacLeod's research focuses on the anthropology of information technology and counterculture. He's taught "Society and Information Technology" on Berkman Island (not on Harvard University's faculty) in Second Life, and on Penn State Isle in Second Life as a Penn State University instructor. He's taught both anthropology and sociology in real life at Chatham University, the University of Pittsburgh, and at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's currently writing an ethnography of Harbin Hot Springs in northern California, with a virtual world aspect, and developing World University and School (like Wikipedia with MIT Open Course Wares - http://worlduniversity.wikia.com).

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