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Embodiment

The readings for this week discuss the relationship between language and the representation of the body. Locher, Jucker and Berger (2015) investigate spatial literacy in the online interaction of newbies in the game Second Life.  Different elements like choosing the avatar and its movement define the participants’ interaction. How different such interaction between the virtual world and the physical world? It seems that some aspects like reading the facial expressions is not informative in the virtual world where text chatting can be sufficient regardless of the position of the avatars.  However, the avatars can indicate the desire to talk by turning to other participating avatars or by using gestures. In this sense, the virtual world draws from the body language in the physical world.

This comparison between the virtual space and the physical space brought my attention to the various ways profile images on social networks embody language. On Youtube and Twitter, Muslim women whether Arabs or non-Arabs would not necessarily choose avatars representative of the way they appear in real life with regard to their Islamic attire. This could be because they view virtual space as totally different sphere where social or religious norms don’t take place or that the virtual space provides an opportunity to restrict the body image. This view, however, can clash with other interlocutors especially when certain posts discuss religious and social identities. Indeed, some interlocutors would not accept a religious advice from an interactant, for instance, without mentioning what they view as her “un-Islamic” avatar.  At the same time, what’s posted as “un-Islamic” avatar in a lot of cases may well be non-representative of the reality of self-image.  It is this contradictory portrayal between the “un-Islamic” avatar and the religious language used by the interactant that brings conflict in communication.

Additionally, a “non-Islamic” avatar could provide a Muslim woman to participate in all sorts of topics without being judged and therefore restricted by an Islamic attire. On the other hand, Muslim women choosing “Islamic” avatars almost always indexes restriction to the type of language she will use. A Muslim woman can choose different ways of “hijab”. Hijab, in Arabic, means a cover so by its nature it adopts certain limits on behavior and speech. This can be both represented in virtual space and physical space. The types of hijab can signal social and national identity, for example, the “niqab” (covering of the face except the eyes) which is widely spread among Muslim women in the gulf and Yemen or the “burqa” which can be found mainly in the gulf and mostly with Bedouin tribes .The “burqa” avatar is interesting because it’s usually worn by older women. Thus, a Muslim woman avatar with a “Burqa” will most likely signal her association with a Bedouin tribe or pride of her family traditions. A woman with the “burqa” avatar doesn’t necessarily indicate religiosity. In often cases, it signals the social identity as a tribal member. This can be reflected clearly with the Bedouin language a woman uses. Thus, as Heyd (2014) argues that identity and the sense of “belonging” is effectively present in the digital communication. In this instance, a woman with “burqa” avatar proudly displays a tribal identity and builds her online social construction on it.

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