Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2017

Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jennifer M. Barker


Taking a film-philosophy approach, this project introduces Jean-Luc Nancy’s post-phenomenology to documentary studies in order to interrogate the ethical relationship that exists between filmmakers, filmed subjects and viewers in a variety of contemporary global documentaries. Adopting Nancy’s dialectics of touch, which reconfigures touch as “contact-in-withdrawal,” this project argues documentary aesthetics render visible a non-appropriative connection between the viewer’s body and bodies on screen. It takes seriously Nancy’s view that the ontology of being is always that of being-with, a model of thought that can be seen in many recent documentaries that are fundamentally and critically engaged in moments of encounter between self and other. It further argues that love is a particular manifestation of touch, one based on a recognition of the mediating space between subjects that both separates and connects us as limited, embodied beings. Starting from the premise that the moving image marks this threshold or the “space between” subjects, the documentaries featured in this project in some way or another open up a space for the ethics of touch through their various formal techniques, including haptic imagery, uses of voice and sound, and the temporality and rhythms of editing and shot duration.