The metaverse as virtual heterotopia

Proceedings of The 3rd World Conference on Research in Social Sciences

Year: 2021


[Fulltext PDF]

The metaverse as virtual heterotopia

David Frederick van der Merwe



William Gibson’s quasi-prophetic vision of cyberspace as a ‘consensual hallucination’ may have predated the commercial inception of the worldwide web by nearly a decade, but given the emergence of online worlds and the blurred virtual/actual (or ‘phygital’) interface, contemporary social and cultural investigation seems more appropriate than ever. The proliferation of online environments making up the shared virtual worlds now dubbed the ‘metaverse’ is bringing us one step closer to this vision. By applying Foucault’s six qualifying requirements of a heterotopia to this largely ungoverned digital realm, it becomes apparent that the illusory nature of the online environments users inhabit makes them heterotopic in nature. This in turn asks how these non-places should be governed, financed and regulated or indeed whether their virtual nature precludes them from these ‘real life’ (RL) constraints. Furthermore, the amount of time and effort invested in these blockchain-powered metaverse environments and the construction of virtual identities to inhabit them – running the gamut of online social networks, gaming, commerce, blogs or otherwise – lends credence to the relative importance of these environments in comparison to RL interactions. The Heideggerian concept of Dasein can subsequently be applied to the metaverse and its heterotopic nature to question larger concerns at play regarding the essential nature of personhood and relationships within the metaverse.

keywords: blockchain; Dasein; Foucault; heterotopia; phygital.