‘Empathy Activism’ and Bodying Difference in Postdigital Culture: Jane Gauntlett’s In My Shoes and BeAnotherLab’s The Machine to Be Another

  • Liam JarvisEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology book series (PSPT)


This chapter investigates the auto-phenomenological work of Jane Gauntlett’s VR documentary performance series In My Shoes and BeAnotherLab’s (BAL) open-source immersive virtual reality (IVR) platform, The Machine to be Another. Both Gauntlett and BAL take as their foundations’ protocols in virtual full-body ownership that resonate with studies in the neuroscientific paradigm to attempt to mobilize the conceptualization of immersive onto-relationality that I have outlined as the attempt to feel with the body of another. The illusory promise of techno-actuated ‘body-swaps’ in the practices discussed is situated as applied art to cultivate self-understanding, empathy and tolerance across borderlands of race and gender and as a therapeutic communication resource for patients in health care contexts. In Waking in Slough (2014) and Dancing With Myself (2016), Gauntlett utilizes body transfer illusions to perceptually reconstruct her remote lived experiences of epileptic seizure for a theatre-going public. In a creative process modelled on person-centred planning, Gauntlett works as a mentor/facilitator with traumatic brain injury patients (TBI) to create immersive pieces for public, non-public and highly targeted groups of beneficiaries. I will examine the origins of Gauntlett’s instrumentalist art and scrutinize what is enacted through the virtual bodily replacements characterized by BAL’s telepresence virtual body (VB) transactions. These expressions of empathy activism are underpinned by an assumption that experiences inviting us to ‘feel as others do’ might engender a positive moral response. I draw on recent critical discourse on ‘empathy’ and its discontents in the writing of Paul Bloom, Peter Bazalgette and Matthew Ratcliffe to scrutinize these assumptions.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Literature, Film and Theatre StudiesUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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