When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision of “the metaverse,” he depicted a future in which digital and physical worlds seamlessly intermix. Work, play, learning, creating – in other words, living – were imagined to span a “mixed reality” environment.

Zuckerberg’s venture is not alone; a whole series of metaverse worlds have emerged alongside an ecosystem using virtual reality, augmented reality, cryptocurrency, NFTs, machine learning, 3D environments, and digital twins. Supporters have capaciously called this envisioned future the next Internet, or Web3. Yet many, even some leaders in Silicon Valley, have deemed this future undesirable. Zuckerberg’s vision in particular has been much ridiculed. Nonetheless, the metaverse has gained traction with investors and technologists who assemble around the Web3 moniker.

A question arises for anthropologists, ethnographers, and other critical scholars of technology: how best to study these “mixed reality” worlds and the digital technologies they employ? Should one favor a methodological approach that follows these technologies, their creators, and their users into the virtual, or should one remain in the physical, searching out “IRL” traces of these virtual constellations? This workshop seeks to bring together scholars spanning these methodological orientations in their studies of today’s digital and virtual worlds. The aim is to seed a discussion about how both digital and analog ethnographic approaches are necessary for understanding these technological trends. Given how COVID-19 forced many of us to pursue remote and online research methods, we want to be mindful of what additional questions and opportunities present themselves as physically present modes of research become tentatively possible once again.

In addition to paper presentations and brainstorm sessions, the workshop will feature a public keynote by Héctor Beltrán, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at MIT, followed by a dinner for participants in the evening.


Conference Schedule

Event Locations (Password Protected)



Workshop Dates: February 23rd and February 24th, 2023

Location: this will be an in-person event at Yale University in New Haven, CT

Costs and Stipend: There is no cost to attend the workshop. Eligible participants will receive a $250 stipend to offset travel and lodging costs. Meals will be provided during the event.

Questions? Please email spencer.kaplan@yale.edu or lisa.messeri@yale.edu.

This workshop is organized by Lisa Messeri and Spencer Kaplan. It is sponsored by the Yale University Department of Anthropology and The Order of Multitudes Mellon Sawyer Seminar.