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Exploring the Empathy Machine: a practice-based investigation of the potential of Virtual Reality for the creation of immersive documentary experiences.


   School of Media, Culture & Society

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  Prof N Higgins, Dr G Jamieson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This studentship is part of UWS Immersive, a multi-disciplinary university wide project that explores the potential of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies and experiences to transform the way UWS teaches, conducts research and engages with society.

Since the initial claims promulgated by the producer Chris Milk in 2015 and alleged success of the 360 degree Virtual Reality experience, Clouds Over Sidra, in convincing the United Nations to provide support for Syrian refugees, the term ‘empathy machine’ has become associated with the medium of Virtual Reality.

In the prevailing years nearly all major film festivals have adopted a VR sidebar where both new practitioners and established filmmakers have exhibited filmic experiences that have sought to expand the form and the means by which empathy might be achieved. Arguably, however, VR goes well beyond empathy as its sole mode of affect and, as with advances within the fields of documentary and film studies, the study of VR now requires a greater level of nuance in the articulation and understanding of its affects.


This doctoral project will critically explore the ‘empathy machine’ claim with reference to the associated literatures in documentary and cultural studies and undertake a practice-based approach to understanding and researching the creation of immersive documentary experiences that might both challenge and enrich current understandings of VR and its relationship to documentary filmmaking.

Prospective candidates should have at least a basic understanding of 360 degree Virtual Reality production, experience of documentary production and a degree from a related subject area (fields listed below).

As part of the UWS online application, candidates will be asked to submit a proposal, please submit a personal statement in place of the proposal.

Funding Notes

UWS is an inspiring, vibrant place to study with a growing research community; an important aspect of which is its outstanding and committed research students. The studentship offers an annual stipend of £14, 553 per annum for three years and payment of tuition fees. Funding will be considered as part of a competitive round. Studentships are open to Home/EU candidates with a first degree in a relevant discipline. Non-EU students can apply, but will not receive the stipend and will be required to pay fees. Candidates must be available to commence their studies 1st October 2018.
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