Touching the senses

Environments and technologies at the movies

Authored by: Alexa Weik von Mossner

The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138786745
eBook ISBN: 9781315766355
Adobe ISBN: 9781317660194


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Human technology enjoys a somewhat ambivalent reputation within the environmental humanities. It has often been framed as a hindrance to harmonious human–nature relationships, an inextricable part of cultural and economic practices that alienate us from nature and put us in a position of power and dominance. However, as Sean Cubitt reminds us, not all technologies are “used as instruments of domination over nature or other humans. Instead … both scientific and entertainment media rely on technology to communicate between human and natural worlds” (4). Technology, in this understanding, functions as a mediator, enabling and often defining our experience of environments near and remote, familiar and strange, actual and virtual. A typical example is the medium of film, which relies on a vast array of technologies to immerse viewers in environments other than those they physically inhabit. Studies such as Nadia Bozak’s The Cinematic Footprint (2012) have turned our attention to the extreme wastefulness of these technologies, and some scholars have argued that they make film an unsuitable medium for environmental communication regardless of its content. Yet, its wasteful “material ecologies” notwithstanding (Ivakhiv 90), film—and in particular documentary film—has often been the medium of choice for artists and activists who want to raise awareness of ecological problems, precisely because it allows people to engage on the sensual and emotional level with an environment that is not actually present and that they may have never personally experienced.

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