Shaping the ‘Public Sphere’ in Second Life: Architectures of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

Annabel Jane Wharton


The built environments of immersive worlds have generated a great many publications on construction technologies; much has also been written on the uses of virtual buildings for commercial and educational purposes. Remarkably little research has, however, been devoted to the appearance and effect of digital architectures, the traditional questions asked by architectural historians. This article offers a modest investigation of sites in Second Life that functioned as campaign venues during the 2008 United States presidential election. In the course of describing the symptomatic differences between the sites of the Republicans and Democrats, the author offers observations on buildings’ contribution to the creation of a “public sphere”—that discursive space broadly considered vital to a successful democracy. Though the architectures of the actual and virtual worlds are in some ways utterly divergent, they are, in others, remarkably similar. One of those ways, the author argues, is their agency. In virtual, as in actual settings, architecture manipulates the actions of its users. Buildings, it is posited, condition the movements of avatars and the thoughts of humans, often without their conscious realization.


agency; architecture; public sphere; space; theory; immersive worlds; 2008 presidential campaign

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