Relationality in VR – Interdisciplinary Workshop on Aesthetic Research in Virtual Reality

March 22, 2023
Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

Call for papers and projects

Virtual Reality (VR) has the potential for creating new forms of relationship between people and other actors. We invite interested researchers and artists to participate with lectures and project presentations on the topic of relationality in a one-day research incubator event.

The concept of relationality comes from sociology. It focuses on the properties and functioning of relationships in a community, rather than describing the community through the properties of its individual members (Donati, Archer 2015). Relationality models are used in various scientific contexts today, such as in ethnography when describing culturally determined ways of thinking and acting in situations where members‘ identification with their community outweighs egocentrism (Hofstede 2001). Scholarly research on swarm intelligence and models of networked societies (Latour 2005) follow this line of thought, as do more holistic, performative approaches in posthuman philosophy (Barad 2015, 2012, 2007). A particular focus on the interrelationships between beings of different species has been developed by Donna Haraway (2018, 2007), and technological and aesthetic innovations, e.g. in the field of digital media, are also evaluated on the basis of relational models in media philosophy (Hansen 2015, 2005 / Shaviro 2010).

With the availability of VR technology to create experiences of digital co-presence, our custom concepts of social and temporal embedding have been challenged in unexpected ways. Although we do not yet have an idea of its long-term impact, VR technology is already being used successfully in many fields such as health, tourism, planning, and so on. At the same time, this technology offers us a unique experimental setup to explore the bodily experience of one‘s own relationality and its conditions: by putting on the VR goggles, the virtual reality guest temporarily shields her own sensual relational embedding. However, the immersion that is achieved through the direct and exclusionary address of the optical and acoustic sense is accompanied by a categorical shift in perception: Although we know about the artificiality of the digital world, we attribute liveness and realism to it (Tavinor 2022).

Naming the digital world „virtual reality“ pointed to a striking conceptual gap as early as the 1980s, when the term was first coined (Lanier 1990, 46): By calling the artificial audiovisual environment a „reality“ of its own, we make it an alien sphere that plunges/entices all participants into an aesthetic adventure. Adventures, in turn, trigger culturally and personally conditioned physical and mental responses. Recently, it has even been noted that VR technology is used in different ways by users from different cultural backgrounds: While in America, simulation of the real world and a rhetoric of immediacy are central to the use and discourse surrounding VR technology, in the Japanese VR industry and community, the exclusion of reality through the headset is seen as a central feature of the technology (Roquet 2022, 7, 138). Although escapist inclinations can hardly be attributed to nationality, Roquet relates the strong gender divergence in media use to a deeper crisis of masculinity that extends far beyond the Japanese cultural sphere.

This workshop aims to bring together expertise and knowledge from disciplines such as film studies and philosophy, game studies, psychology, semiotics, phenomenology, media theory, cultural anthropology, artistic research, narratology, etc. to better understand the context and implications of the perceptual and symbiosensational processes in interactive VR experiences. Aesthetic experiences of body transfer illusions (Slater et. al. 2010), including gender swapping, have been popular in a range of artistic VR experiences since their very beginnings, and strikingly stereotypical gender representations incessantly populate consumer VR environments. Circling around questions of relationality at different levels, i.e., in both perception and social interaction, the interdisciplinary workshop could address topics including:

  • the qualitative description and quantitative analysis of virtual co-presence, encounters, and interactions in VR,
  • the influence of psychological processes of social cognition in VR experiences,
  • the entanglement of corporeal and audiovisual perception
  • the changing situatedness and influence of context in linear and emerging narrative structures
  • possible effects of gender stereotypes and their transformation in character design and movement

Scholars and artists are invited to illuminate central aesthetic aspects from their own research perspectives in approximately 20-30 min lectures or presentations. The gathering intends to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue and aims at further developing research questions on the aesthetic impact of VR, to ideally plant and establish future research collaborations. Accordingly, two follow-up events (online) are planned for autumn/winter 2023.

Abstracts for papers (2000-3000 characters incl. spaces) or work presentations (short abstract plus 1-3 images or video link) as well as a short biography (max. 500 characters incl. spaces) should reach us by February 15, 2023 at this address: christina.zimmermann [at]

Submissions can be made in English or German, all presentations at the workshop will be in English. The workshop programme will be announced by February 28, 2023.



  • Barad, Karen (2007): Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.
  • Barad, Karen (2012): Agentieller Realismus. Über die Bedeutung materiell-diskursiver Praktiken. Berlin, Suhrkamp.
  • Barad, Karen (2015): Verschränkungen. Berlin, Merve.
  • Donati, Pierpaolo und Archer, Margaret S. (2015): The Relational Subject. Cambridge University Press.
  • Hansen, Mark B.N. (2005): Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. London, Routledge.
  • Hansen, Mark B.N. (2015): Feed Forward. On the Future of Twenty-First Century Media. University of Chicago Press.
  • Haraway, Donna (2007): When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Haraway, Donna (2016): Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.
  • Hofstede, Geert (2001): Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, 2nd. Ed., Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Lanier, Jaron (1990): Life in the DataCloud. Scratching Your Eyes Back In, John Perry Barlow interviews Jaron Lanier. In: Mondo 2000, no. 2 (Summer 1990).
  • Latour, Bruno: (2005): Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Roquet, Paul (2022): The immersive enclosure. Virtual reality in Japan. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Shaviro, Steven (2010): Post-cinematic affect. Winchester: O-Books.
  • Slater, Mel; Spanlang, Bernhard; Sanchez-Vives, Maria V.; Blanke, Olaf (2010): First Person Experience of Body Transfer in Virtual Reality. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10564.
  • Tavinor, Grant (2022): The Aesthetics of Virtual Reality, New York, Routledge.