Kurt Reymers, Ph.D.

Writing Samples

My research and writing involves the analysis of case studies, a mix of ethnographic and critical theory oriented work that seeks to more fully understand from a sociological point of view our society and our place within it, especially as it is influenced by technology.

Chicken Killers or Bandwidth Patriots?:
A Case Study of Ethics in Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has developed to the point where millions of people across the world are now engaging one another in social interactions ranging from games to learning and pleasure to business in virtual worlds. No unsurprisingly, ethical dilemmas have developed within the context of these interactions. In 2008, a resident of a computerized virtual world called "“Second Life"” programmed and began selling a realistic” virtual chicken. It required food and water to survive, was vulnerable to physical damage, and could reproduce. This development led to the mass adoption of chicken farms and large-scale trade in virtual chickens and eggs. When chickens “lay” their eggs, the color scheme is important for determining their age - scarce eggs (rare colors) are worth more on the egg-trading market. Markets determine the value of eggs and, ultimately, the flock that one has accumulated. Not long after the release of the virtual chickens, a number of incidents occurred which demonstrate the negotiated nature of territorial and normative boundaries. Neighbors of chicken farmers complained of slow performance of the simulation and some users began terminating the chickens, kicking or shooting them to “death.” All of these virtual world phenomena, from the interactive role-playing of virtual farmers to the social, political and economic repercussions within and beyond the virtual world, can be examined with a critical focus on the ethical ramifications of virtual world conflicts. This paper views the case of the virtual chicken wars from three different ethical perspectives: as a resource dilemma, as providing an argument from moral and psychological harm, and as a case in which just war theory can be applied.

This paper has been published by the International Journal of Technoethics. Available here.
Citation: Reymers, K. (2011). Chicken Killers or Bandwidth Patriots?: A Case Study of Ethics in Virtual Reality. International Journal of Technoethics (IJT), 2(3), 1-22. doi:10.4018/jte.2011070101

This paper was presented at the Society for the Social Study of Science (4S) 2011 conference, Cleveland, OH, November 2-5, 2011.

The New "AOL":
Activism On-Line and the use of the Internet in community organizing

A second paper in the STOP NYRI series, this one outlines the use of the Internet as a tool for social organizing. In the case of STOP NYRI (New York regional Inteconnect, Inc.), a group dedicated to opposing an electrical transmission line proposal for central New York State, the Internet aided in the creation of a kind of "smart mob" (Rheingold 2002) used to combat the technical expertise and judicial-legislative processes which often mires citizens long before their objective is complete. In this case, STOP NYRI aimed at the state and federal permitting processes and gained significant citizen and political support to oppose NYRI.

This paper was presented at the Society for the Social Study of Science (4S) 2009 conference (Washington, D.C., October 29, 2009).

The Country and the Grassroots:
Rural action for local control of energy policy and development

This paper was published in October 2008 in the journal Theory In Action, from the Transformative Studies Institute. It's focus is a grassroots movement that emerged in a rural area of Central New York to oppose a proposal made by New york Regional Interconnect, a Canadian owned company, for a 400,000 volt HVDC power line that would extend through a nearly two-hundred mile stretch from Utica, NY to Rock Tavern, NY. The opposition claims damage would occur to property values, environment, electricity rates, health, history and would take us down a slippery slope by allowing this large, private corporation the right of eminent domain in building the infrastructure. The company claims the line is necessary to reduce congestion in the power grid. The issue is viewed through the lens of uneven development (Gottdiener 2006) and the "space of flows" described by Castells (1996). This work is currently being followed up with ethnographic research, particularly in relationship to the role of the internet in the social activism of STOP NYRI, Inc.

This paper has been published by the Trasnsformative Studies Institute. Abstract available here.
Citation: Reymers, K. (2008). The Country and the Grassroots: Rural action for local control of energy policy and development. Theory in Action, 1 (4), p. 72-91. doi:10.3798/tia.1937-0237.08020

This paper was presented at the Society for the Social Study of Science (4S) 2007 conference (Montreal, Canada, October 12, 2007).

Here's an essay presented at the 2006 Society for the Social Study of Science (4S) conference (Vancouver BC, November 4, 2006). It's a follow-up on my dissertation work regarding internet community, focusing on the intersection of computerization, science and religion. Thus the paper is titled (using a term borrowed from Erik Davis) Eschatechnology: Computer Science, Religion, and Y2k.

My doctoral dissertation was about community and social life in cyberspace. The case study I investigated involves an online group that formed in 1996 to discuss the possible effects of the Y2K computer problem. It is entitled Communitarianism on the Internet: An Ethnographic Analysis of the Usenet Newsgroup tpy2k, 1996-2004.

Here is a critique of the impenetrable "growth ethic" of late capitalism, as it is exhibited in the growth and change of the Vermont-based ice-cream company Ben & Jerry's. It is entitled Can Capitalism Be Caring? A case study of Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc., and this work became the basis for my Master of Arts thesis, as well as a contribution to the Encyclopedia of Leadership (SAGE Reference Series, 2004).

    • Note: An epilogue to this work reveals the final fate of Ben & Jerry's in April 2000: bought out by Unilever, an $8 billion company (and part of a $50 billion company) that also owns Klondike, Good Humor, and Breyer's ice creams. "It's tie-dye vs. capitalism and capitalism won," says Jeffrey Kanter, a senior food analyst at Prudential Securities.
Here are two more samples of my work, found in the areas of social stratification and technology/work respectively, entitled:

(These are also published in the The Red Feather Institute's Electronic Journal, Spring 98 and Summer 98, respectively.)

Here's a topic paper entitled Identity and the Internet. It explores the possible combination of a symbolic interactionist perspective on chat groups and bulletin boards and a social network style analysis of "virtual communities". This paper has been used by online study groups and in college classrooms nationwide. It also is the winner of the 2002 Carl J. Couch Internet Research Award, presented at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) 3rd annual conference, Maastricht, The Netherlands. It is also a frequently cited paper online.
Another essay, entitled Are We At A Fork In The Information Superhighway?, explores the online issues of community lost and found, cooperation and competition, democracy and facism, and asks of our attempts to guide the emergent technology of the Internet: the question "Is Resistance Futile?"  

I welcome communication from anyone interested in the subject of the sociology of science and technology.

Curriculum Vitae of Kurt Reymers (HTML format)