Thomas Malaby (thomasmalaby.com) is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has published numerous works on games, practice, and indeterminacy. He is continually interested in the ever-changing relationships among institutions, unpredictability, and technology, especially as they are realized through games and game-like processes. His most recent book,Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life (2009), is an ethnographic examination of Linden Lab and its relationship to its creation, Second Life. He is also a featured author at the blog Terra Nova.
What one insight from your field, approach, method, findings etc. do you think is most important for scholars working in this topical area?
The insight that that I think is most important right now is the recognition of how the architects of our digital lives are effectively engaging in public policy as they create new domains of digital cultural production, and that in doing so, these institutions are developing and employing strikingly post-bureaucratic techniques, such as game design.
What are two issues that are not adequately treated within current work on cultural production in the digital age in your field or in others?
One issue that I feel is not adequately addressed is the cultural production before the cultural production; that is, the way digital domains for cultural production are themselves culturally produced. Some people are beginning to work on this, and that is exciting, but there is a lot of brush-clearing that must be done more broadly in this area. The second issue I would mention is that of social practice, as against prevailing emphases on materiality and (especially) representation. The distinctive implications of social practices surrounding digital cultural production disappear when scholars frame what we see in an overarching framework of meaning (the semiotic).
Are humanistic values such as justice, equality, democracy or (insert preferred humanistic value here) currently served by cultural production in a digital networked environment?
I think that one of the most concerning things about values and cultural production in this era is the way in which a tacit legitimization of market-like collective effects through digital technology (what I would call technoliberalism) underwrites so much of the actions of users, digital architects, policymakers, and many academics. This gets in the way of asking hard questions about justice, democracy, and creativity.