Thomas Malaby


Thomas Malaby is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Co-coordinator of the Modern Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has published articles and essays on practice theory, risk, mortality, and history, and his book, Gambling Life: Dealing in Contingency in a Greek City (University of Illinois Press) explores human attitudes toward risk through an examination of the practice of gambling in Crete. His principal research interest is in the relationships among modernity, unpredictability, and technology, particularly as they are realized through games and game-like processes. He is in the process of co-editing a book, Command Lines, which explores the emergence of governance (in its various forms) online. His current research, supported by the National Science Foundation, examines how ethics are encoded and emergent in the production of complex online synthetic worlds through ethnographic research at Linden Lab, makers of Second Life.


Economies of Meaning: Property, Value, Exchange

The continuing expansion of virtual worlds in size coupled with their rapidly increasing connections with other domains of their users' lives together raise new questions about the bedrock concepts that have heretofore informed their study. In these domains, we see the rise of both institutionally-sponsored and grassroots learning, the increasing use of in-world achievements as resumé-building credentials, and the advent of higher stakes social networking. To a certain extent, these may be consequences of these worlds' persistence. Human activity in these worlds creates durable effects beyond the market itself. But how are we to understand them? This panel inquires into the limits and possibilities of core ideas in the field, such as value, property, and exchange, and considers how they may be developed to engage the present state of digital life. Is there more to be mined from the intellectual roots of these terms? How may interdisciplinary readings of them furnish productive new directions?

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