EMPTECH: Introducing innovative immersive and empathetic technologies into ethnographic research

Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oulu is one of the leading innovators across European universities in the use of cutting-edge audio-visual technologies for ethnographic research on contemporary society. Through piloting, testing, analyzing and experimenting with various forms of immersive, 360º video/audio recording and dissemination, we explore the value of these new technologies as a means of bringing people closer to the diversity of forms of human and non-human perception, thought, feeling and experience. Empathetic technologies (EMPTECH) work by tracking, rendering and displaying full-field visual, sonic and tactile data in a context in which the viewer has full control and is empowered to decide what to look at, listen to and feel – which story to experience. While such technology has been around for some time now, only over the past year or two has it become affordable enough to enable individual scholars to implement such tools into their everyday research practice.

 

Using immersive technologies can be particularly helpful in contexts where it is essential to comprehensively communicate the perspectives of one individual or group of people, or in situations that seek to convey senses of empathetic embodiment. These new methodological tools are being used across research in both rural and urban spaces towards several ends: 1) innovating the forms we use for impact assessment; 2) encouraging alternative and multiple perspectives (e.g. seeing oneself as the “other”, showcasing advantages of new experiences); 3) facilitating compelling modes of communicating ethnographic, in situ fieldwork, to other parties; 4) enabling stakeholders to more effectively understand anthropological research so as to achieve better impact.

 

We believe that these new innovations can bring a richer, deeper experience to ethnographic research, writing and dissemination – one that is at once more digital and more human. In the projects we work on in this sphere, we encourage anthropologists, geographers, sociologists and other researchers across the disciplines to embrace new digital technologies as means of both deepening their research capabilities and facilitating communication of their findings to a wider range of people out in the world. Though these technological developments are still in an early phase of adoption in many areas, we are very excited about the possibilities such affordances can bring to study of human society, culture and environment. We have found this to be particularly the case when working in spaces characterized by anthropocenic anxiety, biodiversity loss and the need for people to be able to forge connections with other humans, as well as with animals, spaces and landscapes.

Last updated: 10.12.2018