Anthropology speaker series: UCI’s Dr. Tom Boellstorff says culture has no borders

Dr. Beollstorff lectures saddleback students about varied cultures views on border, gay acceptance in Indonesia and virtual world psychology. (Kurtis Rattay/Contributor)

Dr. Beollstorff lectures Saddleback students about varied views on borders, gay acceptance in Indonesia and virtual world psychology. (Kurtis Rattay/Contributor)

Professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Tom Boellstorff, visited Saddleback College on Wednesday afternoon to present a lecture as part of the college’s ongoing “Anthropology Speaker Series.”

The lecture was titled “Anthropology, Technology, and Human Futures,” and touched on subjects ranging from sexuality in Southeast Asia to life in a virtual world.

“The way most people think about culture is wrong,” Boellstorff said.

Boellstorff believes cultures like Thai, Japanese and Mexican have no solid borders. He also believes aspects of each culture, like politics, religion and sexuality, are not entirely separate.

“Cultures are never bounded and the domains within them are intersecting,” said Boellstorff. “The link between nations and sexuality interests me and the way that technology intersects all these things is something I have looked at a lot.”

Boellstorff has been researching the link between globalization and sexuality by immersing himself in Indonesian gay, lesbian and transgender communities for about 22 years. His book, “The Gay Archipelago” is described by the Princeton University Press as, “the first book-length exploration of the lives of gay men in Indonesia.”

Since 2004, Boellstorff has been using the same anthropological methods of researching gay and lesbian communities in Indonesia and has applied them to the virtual world Second Life. He uses his avatar, a tattooed version of himself, to conduct focus groups and interviews with other avatars in Second Life.

Second Life is an online virtual world created entirely by the user and was first launched in 2003. According to developer Linden Lab, there are infinite possibilities and the user is guided only by their imagination.

“I tried it once but I couldn’t figure it out,” said Gabriella Montanez, a student attending the lecture for her cultural anthropology class.

According to Boellstorff, people with disabilities have been at the forefront of “technology adoption and transformation.” His current research project studies the community of Second Life users with Parkinson’s disease.

Boellstorff shared an interview with an 88-year-old woman diagnosed with Parkinson’s who is depicted in Second Life as a young blonde woman who enjoys dancing.

Saddleback College’s anthropology department has been organizing the “Anthropology Speaker Series” for about six years. There have been three guest speakers this semester. The ongoing series is funded by Saddleback College’s Associated Student Government.

“It is one of the allotments we get from ASG,” said Claire Cesareo, Chair of the anthropology department. “It is used to bring speakers for students so they can hear about what other anthropologists do and get ideas about what they might be interested in studying in the future.”

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