(Im)materiality, virtual reality and interaction: Grounding the 'virtual' in studies of technology in action

Jon Hindmarsh, Christian Heath, Mike Fraser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Citations (SciVal)


This paper explores the organisation of social interaction amongst participants 'in' Virtual Reality. Despite the wide-ranging sociological interest in 'virtual' technologies, there is rather little detailed sociological investigation of user experiences of the virtual technology par excellence, namely multi-user Virtual Reality. Interestingly the discourses that underpin discussions of more mundane virtual technologies (eg email, the Web, mobile phones, etc.) tend to draw on design visions for Virtual Reality, such as the opportunities for social life freed from the constraints of the physical body. This paper contributes to a growing number of empirical studies that provide a critique of this view, but maybe more importantly, provides a detailed analysis of action and interaction in virtual worlds. It considers the organisation of interaction within VR with particular emphasis on the ways in which visual features of the digital domain are seen and shared by participants. The paper describes the ways in which the abilities to share views on the virtual world requires participants to overcome problems associated with the very material character of the VR interfaces. The study is based on the analysis of recordings of a Virtual Reality system that enables participants to talk to one another and see one another's actions within a virtual environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-817
Number of pages23
JournalSociological Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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