The politics of humanity: ‘humanising’ refugees through virtual reality technology

Suzuki, Moe (2023) The politics of humanity: ‘humanising’ refugees through virtual reality technology. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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There is a long-standing relationship between the concept of humanity and refugees, such as their representation as ‘pure humanity’ and ideal subjects of humanitarianism, their ‘dehumanisation’ in the media, and calls to be treated as ‘human’. ‘Virtuous virtual reality’ (VR) (Nakamura, 2020) emerged in the mid-2010s as VR technology started to be promoted as uniquely placed to foster connection and empathy between users and refugees due to its technological affordances. This thesis identifies virtuous VR on displacement produced by a constellation of actors including technology companies, the United Nations, and news agencies as a site where what I call a ‘humanising’ approach to displacement manifests. This approach foregrounds the fundamental commonality as ‘fellow humans’ between refugees and the audience.

Using decolonial and feminist theories and through conjunctural and experiential analyses of four VR films on displacement from the Syrian conflict—Project Syria (2014), Clouds Over Sidra (2015), Refugees (2015), and Sea Prayer (2017)—this thesis demonstrates two implications of a ‘humanising’ approach to displacement as it manifests in virtuous VR. First, virtuous VR on displacement seeks to assimilate refugees into dominant ‘genres of the human’ (Wynter, 2003), reproducing the hierarchy of humanity rooted in modernity/coloniality. I highlight the dynamics shaping refugees’ relationship to the category of the human, such as racialisation, gendering, and mobilisation of innocence through figures of children. Secondly, I situate virtuous VR on displacement in the current conjuncture characterised by the production of refugee/migrant ‘crises’ in Europe and North America, growing securitisation of migration augmented by digital technologies, the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, and the convergence of digital humanitarianism and philanthro-capitalism. I argue that the issue of displacement is instrumentalised to manage the crisis of neoliberal capitalism and to increase market expansion in pursuit of profit. Virtuous VR’s ‘humanising’ approach to displacement therefore affirms and reproduces the modern/colonial order.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2024 14:13
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2024 14:13

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