Empathy is generally regarded as the ability to read the feelings of others and to empathize with the experience of others, that is, to be able to empathize. While this affective form of knowledge has long been exclusively assigned to the sensibility of human subjects, art and media discourses have recently increasingly revolved around empathy machines and empathic machines. On the one hand, this denotes media aesthetics that are intended to enable a physical empathy with other, sometimes more-than-human modes of perception; and on the other hand those emotion-sensitive devices and programs that position themselves as an understanding opposite of their human users. However, it is not only the current developments in the field of immersion media and affect technologies that have brought empathy close to media operations. The ability to empathize in cognitive science research of the 19th and 20th centuries was already elevated to a scientific examination category and finally transferred to the field of technological addressability and quantification logic at the latest with the “discovery of mirror neurons” in the 1990s. Empathy as “affective technology for knowing the other” (Carolyn Pedwell) experiences an increasing association in the history of western science with the media functions of connecting, synchronizing and transferring, which, in turn, appear to be a problem with moments of separation, out of sync and lack of understanding to let. The dissertation project intends to examine this technological version of empathy with regard to its effects on the “cultural politics” (Sara Ahmed) of empathy. Because both in their function of overcoming as well as their function to create differences, local acts of empathy prove to be deeply problematic – this is particularly indicated by post- and decolonial writings that advocate a different determination of the relationship between empathy and alterity. Central to the dissertation is therefore the question of what the history and continuity of that empathy conception consists of, which prefers a smooth transition into “foreign experience” (Edith Stein) to more complex and resistant negotiation processes of relationality, and which empathy is so connectable to late capitalist affect politics and – have made economies.
Media aesthetics, theories of body and affect, media art, feminist and post-decolonial perspectives
Vanessa Oberin, born in 1988, studied art studies and English at the HBK and TU Braunschweig as well as a master’s degree in European Media Studies at the University of Potsdam, which she completed in 2018 with a thesis on touch and media technologies. Since the winter of 2018 she has been a doctoral student at the research college SENSING: The knowledge of sensitive media at ZeM. Her research interests include media aesthetics, body and affect theories, media art, as well as feminist and post-/decolonial perspectives on these topics.