Plutopians talk to Claire Fitch, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research contemplates the role that simulated natures in virtual reality (VR) play in shaping trajectories of human-environment relations. In order to unravel the current forms and functions of this medium, she investigates various ways in which VR is used to provide experiences of nature, and consider how these natures act as arenas in which human-environment relationships are (re)considered, (re)negotiated, contemplated and enacted. This research centers the socio-material entanglements of virtual nature environments, contextualizes this within a broader discussion of mediated subjectivity within techno-capitalism, and considers the overlap of the two as a dynamic and central geographic question of the Capitalocene epoch.
We discuss her doctoral research into virtual reality simulations of nature. We also explore the impact of capitalism on the environment, AI, and much more.
So I was doing a lot of environmental organizing and thinking a lot about human-environment relationships, and came to Human Geography in my Master’s as a sort of combination of these two, the human and the environmental. And I wasn’t really interested in technology at the beginning, but being an environmental organizer and talking to so many folks about their relationships to climate change and their feeling of precarity as youth confronting climate change, I was also becoming really fascinated with watching people simultaneously having this really strong connection to technology. I finished my Master’s in 2017, so at this point everybody had phones they were using all the time, everybody was becoming deeply entangled in social media, and this was a lot of the way people were living their lives. And I was really interested in these environmentalist communities, seeing how people negotiated their presence in cyberspace, their identity formation in cyberspace, at the same time that they were sort of struggling through their identities or their futures on earth, in this material world.