Augmenting the Sociology of Art for the Metaverse: An Ethnography of Augmented Reality Activist Art

Goffinski, Alida, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Greenland, Fiona, AS-Sociology (SOCI), University of Virginia

Variously described as the “metaverse,” “Web 3,” or the “spatial web,” the future of the internet is being designed to immerse us in augmented and virtual realities at an unprecedented scale. This ethnographic study considers how 30 new media artists and activists use augmented reality (AR), an emerging Web 3 technology, as an experimental form of new media activism to advance a diverse range of social, political, and global causes. For over a decade, artists and creators have leveraged augmented reality technology to protest and reimagine their physical worlds through socially and politically engaged augmented reality art (ARt). This critical corpus of works is an important, though underexplored, dimension of the ARtistic canon, and of the genealogy of augmented reality technology. Though Web 2 activist repertoires routinely leveraged social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, AR activists’ emerging repertoires operate beyond the two-dimensional version of cyberspace where most digital activism has occurred. Instead, they draw on a more immersive form of embodied knowledge to intervene at the intersection of the human sensorium, the real world, and the virtual realm in novel ways. Against the backdrop of extant repertoires available to today’s activist, the ARtists in this study seek to prepare the activists of tomorrow as our relationship to the metaverse evolves. Thus, augmented reality activist works of art serve as socially and politically conscious interventions that anticipate a critical version of the metaverse that does not yet exist, but can be glimpsed episodically with each ARt encounter.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Sociology, Digital Art, Metaverse, Web 3, Augmented Reality, Activism, Culture
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