M. Compitello, J. Luna Freire

The University of Arizona (UNITED STATES)
This presentation focuses on Cibola, a virtual “living” region replicating important buildings of Latin America and Spain. Created to hold rotating showcases for student projects, upcoming social events, structured classes, and more, it raises questions not only on urban theory and planning, but also on pedagogical uses of technologies for foreign language teaching and Cultural Studies. It is based on the pedagogical possibilities of Second Life for distance learning, combined with its extensive social networking opportunities, as in the kind of relationship Schroeder et al. and Taylor identify in virtual realities (2001; 2006). Based on this theory, we will discuss in this presentation our experience teaching advanced culture classes at the University of Arizona’s region.

Considering previous research on the topic, such as Gold’s essay on the use of Second Life to bring to life the work of Benito Pérez Galdós, or similarly Juan Carlos Martín’s and with the work of Ramón y Cajal, we invested in this technology as a way of observing the usefulness of virtual realities in our classrooms. More specifically, to understand how urban space is represented in Spanish Film in works by directors such as Alex de la Iglesia, Alejandro Almenábar, and Almodóvar, among others, which formulate their own version of Madrid as a text. After conducting their own research on specific movies taking place in 20th and 21st century Spain, the graduate students develop creative projects inside the virtual reality with the pedagogical intention of noticing how the virtual city works as a social text, both in the film and in Second Life. Consequently, one is motivated to study spatial theory and the relation between the works of the imagination and the mechanics of the construction of space and to assess their own interference on it, thus becoming both analysts and creators and organizers of a ‘virtual’ real space.

From a theoretical perspective, we focus on concepts developed by critical urbanists following the footsteps of Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, addressing in this new medium issues such as:

-The rise of new consumption spaces: creation of wealth, inclusion and exclusion
-Identity formed in new virtual spaces, under distinct structures of civil society: how is the effect of location diminished? How does this connectivity influence identity and social relations among users in this transnational virtual community?
-Is the production of virtual spaces also guided by capitalism? What role does capitalism play in the creation of a virtual library of community resources?
-How are social practices inscribed in the formation of a virtual city as a social text?
-Are these created spaces, due to their pristine geography, reproducing the same urban exclusions contested by the theory on which Cibola is based?

Moreover, because spacial concerns are at the center of Cibola’s conception, the five virtual cafés and adjacent buildings serve as a point of encounter that could galvanize relationships between real spaces and their inflection in the cartographic imaginaries of cultural creators. Exploring the relationship between the real and the imaginary afforded a unique opportunity to unpack the dynamic and reconstruct in virtual reality, and, therefore, see what role the creation of virtual space plays in this process.

The presentation will be in English, but the island offers a unique multi-language / multi-cultural environment.