Date of Award

Spring 4-30-2020

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Sociology and Anthropology

Department Chair or Program Director

Kristin Marsh

First Advisor

Laura Mentore

Second Advisor

Eric Gable

Third Advisor

Jason James

Major or Concentration



What meanings do actors attach to their avatars in virtual reality platforms? How does a person’s relationship with their selected avatar impact their communications with other persons in virtual reality settings? In this thesis, Montemorano seeks to answer these questions through qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork that she conducted in 2019 in the virtual reality space known as VRChat, and in connection with anthropological literature on embodiment, sociality, and personhood. This thesis details the author’s research findings, provides a brief historical background on virtual worlds and avatars, and discusses several noteworthy ethnographic studies of virtual worlds such as Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life. The result is a blend of pertinent vignettes with scholarly analysis of feminist and posthumanist theories of performativity, virtualism and play. Montemorano stresses the distinctiveness of anthropology in studying virtual worlds, owing in particular to the discipline’s emphasis on the social constructedness and performativity of identity and its methodological commitment to participant observation. By connecting her original research to broader anthropological theories and concepts, Montemorano hopes to spark thought on how digital platforms and virtuality potentially grant actors the ability to subvert traditional identity categories and create new and unexpected affinities.

Included in

Anthropology Commons