Avatar, personified: Split personhood on an ethical online support group

Summer Qassim


Studies of digital life have theorized the heuristic value of theoretical and emic boundaries and/or the interconnectedness of online and offline selves, often with a focus on the curation of an online self whose distinctiveness must be methodologically interrogated offline. Through ethnographic analysis of a large group of globally dispersed women who meet online to learn ethical pedagogy in service of a curated, offline self, I argue this split self denotes a self/other distinction on a continuum, with the ethical work conducted in service of an eventual collapse of this dual corporeality. I explain this through a framework of perspectivism, ethics, and the partible person. In doing so, I underscore a theoretical position that posits that the “digital” does not always usher in a “new” way of being, bridging prior anthropological scholarship on Indigenous personhood with a personhood that I argue is similarly enacted within a digital world.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/730076