Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



In this dissertation, I explore a phenomenon I call virtual touch, in which embodied sensations of touch are felt through non-tactile senses. In the digital age, online interactivity has expanded the ways in which individuals experience connection, intimacy, and touch. Digital media, which have traditionally been thought of as disembodied, nevertheless have the ability to elicit intense feelings of touch. Through analysis of digital and virtual installation art, I examine the ways that non-tactile touch remains rooted in the embodied experience. The works I include in this study create a feeling of virtual touch through a co-functioning of the senses, and through what Brian Massumi terms “the superiority of the analog,” in which all experience is inherently rooted in the body.

Grounded in Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the embodied subject, I focus on three broad categories of installation art, each of which creates an affective response of virtual touch through senses of sight and proprioception: telematic performance using video-conferencing technology, digitally reactive animations, and immersive sculptures of light designed to decenter the perceptual and visual senses. Along with works by artists Paul Sermon, Adrien M & Claire B, teamLab, and James Turrell, I include analyses of two research performances I created, Being Present (2016) and (dis)embodied in space (2019), both of which entangled live and mediatized bodies through telematic video technology. Each of the artworks that I include place an emphasis on the embodied experience, engaging bodies in interactions of virtual touch with other bodies, with digitally reactive artworks, and with light and space. Throughout this dissertation, I argue for a rethinking of concepts of touch, intimacy, and connection in the digital age.

Committee Chair

Suchy, Patricia A