Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Felleman, Susan


In 2009 five avatar-themed films were released, one of which became the highest grossing film to date, signaling that in addition to their popularity in videogames and virtual worlds, avatars are culturally salient figures which demand scholarly attention. Avatars, virtual environments, and user behavior have evolved significantly since virtual reality captured public and academic attention at the close of the twentieth century, and this dissertation is an attempt to theorize the avatar in contemporary digital culture. By interlacing new media philosophy and analyses of cinematic texts I situate the avatar at the nexus between digital images and interactive bodies, with implications for both cinema and virtual environments. Avatarial interfaces position users in an embodiment of connections which in some ways evokes the cyborg body, but the avatar as a theoretical figure places greater stress on the relation between human embodiment and (digital) images, as well as suggesting a move from cyborg fragmentation toward an avatarial gestalt. Avatars are also fruitful bodies for thinking through agency and gender in contemporary society, and engaging the lost `body' of the picture as film has been supplanted by digital imagery. In this regard, virtuality, as a conceptual state pertaining to images, embodiment, technology, and philosophy, serves as the connective theoretical tissue linking bodies and images. Ultimately, in this dissertation I employ the avatar in an exploration of the ways in which we are already virtual, and how we have become avatarial in our own skin.




This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.