Research Seminar
Wed 13 December 2017
12:00 – 13:30 GMT
Watts Building, Room 509
Brighton BN2 4GJ
Lewes Road

The Empathy Machine: Virtual reality, iAnimal and the techno-biopolitics of witnessing

Professor Michael Goodman, University of Reading – Visiting Fellow, Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics

New techno-social devices are allowing individuals and collectives an unprecedented witnessing of the Anthropocene. Virtual reality is one such techno-social witnessing regime. Dubbed ‘empathy machines’ by Wired magazine, virtual reality headsets are being used as politicised technological devices to bring awareness to such issues as the global migrant crisis and climate change.

iAnimal, an animal welfare/vegan activist group, is engaged in using these empathy machines to intervene in the everyday understandings of where industrially produced meat comes from and convince viewers to shift to vegan diets. Viewed through an intervention event by iAnimal, this paper explores and analyses the techno-biopolitics of virtual reality in the service of animal welfare, changing eating behaviours and the digitisation of foodscapes.

Through an immersive visualisation and auditory experience of suffering, iAnimal creates a kind of thanato-biopolitics in action that is as felt as it is visual. Though this novel network of digital visual and auditory data, the virtual reality experience, visions and sounds of cruelty, suffering and death—with a few vegan celebrities thrown in for good measure—and the relational affects, emotions and feelings of human/animal assemblages, iAnimal points to the possibilities of a ‘virtual food politics’ designed to re-shape foodscapes for the better through the act of emplaced witnessing of the Anthropocene.

Biography: Michael Goodman is Professor of Geography at the University of Reading and Associate Deputy Editor of the prestigious journal, Climatic Change. With over 70 publications, Professor Goodman is a highly regarded and cited international expert in the field of food, environment and media. His interdisciplinary work navigates and pushes the disciplinary boundaries of media and communication studies and human/cultural geography. Professor Goodman has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics during 2017