Elihu Katz Colloquium: Lisa Messeri, Yale University

Embodied Omniscience: Witnessing, Embodiment, and Racial Erasure in Virtual Reality
26 Mar 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
ASC Only

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This event will be held on Zoom. The link to join will be emailed to the Annenberg community on the day of the event.

About the Talk

This talk considers what a virtual reality experience asks of its participant. Based on ethnographic work with VR producers in Los Angeles, Messeri proposes describing the perspective-taking that is central to VR as embodied omniscience. Users are asked to be present (embodied) in a scene even as they are afforded an omniscience inherent in being an invisible witness. This talk will tack between describing how actors and directors imagine this embodied omniscience and the experience of doing VR pieces (both fictional narratives and documentaries). Joining other scholars who have critiqued VR “empathy experiences” that strive to bring a (presumed) white or otherwise privileged user into a non-white or otherwise disadvantaged person’s world, Messeri explains how embodied omniscience draws attention to the erasure of non-white bodies in order to evoke empathy. This talk will conclude by discussing more recently debuted experiences that respond to these criticisms and demonstrate a more hopeful future for VR as a tool for exploring diverse experiences and embodiments.

About the Speaker

Lisa Messeri is an assistant professor of sociocultural anthropology at Yale University. She works with scientists and innovators to understand how their practices and imaginaries shape broader understandings of what it means to be in the world. Her research has been featured in National Geographic, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and PBS’s Nova Next. Her first book, Placing Outer Space, explores how planetary scientists and exoplanetary astronomers transform planets from scientific objects into places and worlds. Her current book is under contract with Duke University Press and weaves together the fantasies and technologies that enliven the virtual reality community in Los Angeles.
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