Unintended outcomes in Second Life: Intercultural literacy and cultural identity in a virtual world

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Abstract

Since its inception in 2003, the popularity of Second Life (SL), an online 3-D virtual environment, has increased exponentially. The global reach of SL and the opportunities it provides for cross-cultural exchange using multiple modes of communication in real and virtual worlds make it an ideal venue to examine cross-cultural engagement. Drawing on Cultural Historical Activity Theory and Heyward's model of intercultural literacy, this article analyses findings from an exploratory study examining the construction of cultural identity and development of intercultural literacy among 29 SL participants. The authors argue that SL Residents participate in an Activity System, engaging in myriad activities (e.g. language classes) which provide structured environments that generate both intended and unintended outcomes. The findings reveal that in many ways participation in SL enhanced participants' intercultural literacy for example, by fostering use of multiple languages, cross-cultural encounters and friendships, greater awareness of insider cultural perspectives, and openness towards new viewpoints. Additionally, respondents used their avatar's appearance to construct shifting cultural identities. Although the cross-cultural exchanges in SL do not guarantee intercultural literacy, they provide participants with opportunities to move in that direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-118
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Intercultural Communication
Volume8
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 11 2008

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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