Virtual Reality and the Syrian Refugee Camps: Humanitarian Communication and the Politics of Empathy

Bimbisar Irom


In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has gained traction in humanitarian communication through its utopian promises of copresence, experiential immediacy, and transcendence. I analyze three communication texts that engage with the Syrian refugee crisis. Two were made using immersive technology, and one is a traditional documentary. The article argues that VR brings new techniques of experiential immediacy to the practice of humanitarian communication, but it also uses meaning-making codes in the simulations of other peoples and spaces. Therefore, VR remains subject to the operations of dominant ideologies. Comparing these artifacts, the article demonstrates that although immersive technologies foreground the primacy of nonmediation, ignoring the structures of representation defangs the political possibilities of humanitarian communication.


humanitarian communication, virtual reality, refugee studies, representation, digital humanitarianism, communication technology

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