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How immersive simulations—from a fictional border-crossing site to a mock terrorist training camp—attempt to foster understanding across cultures

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In a time of intensifying xenophobia and anti-immigration measures, this book examines the impulse to acquire a deeper understanding of cultural others. Immersions in Cultural Difference takes readers into the heart of immersive simulations, including a simulated terrorist training camp in Utah; mock Afghan villages at military bases in Canada and the UK; a fictional Mexico-US border run in Hidalgo, Mexico; and an immersive tour for settlers at a First Nations reserve in Manitoba, Canada. Natalie Alvarez positions the phenomenon of immersive simulations within intersecting cultural formations: a neoliberal capitalist interest in the so-called “experience economy” that operates alongside histories of colonization and a heightened state of xenophobia produced by War on Terror discourse. The author queries the ethical stakes of these encounters, including her own in relation to the field research she undertakes. As the book moves from site to site, the reader discovers how these immersions function as intercultural rehearsal theaters that serve a diverse set of strategies and pedagogical purposes: they become a “force multiplier” within military strategy, a transgressive form of dark tourism, an activist strategy, and a global, profit-generating practice for a neoliberal capitalist marketplace.

Natalie Alvarez is Associate Professor, Theatre and Performance Studies in the School of Performance at Ryerson University.

“The diversity of the detailed and often gripping case studies, and their presentation in theoretically appropriate contexts, make for an original and thought-provoking take on how performance is deployed far beyond the cultural sector. Why simulations have become so pervasive and, at the same time, so often troubling forms the core of Alvarez’s discussion. The book’s attentiveness to political, ethical and moral questions is both admirable and important.”
—Susan Bennett, University of Calgary   

“Meticulous in its research and field work, its theorization, and its interrogative self-positioning, Immersions in Cultural Difference also provides a compelling experience that takes the reader through the complexities of immersive simulation in military, tourist, and Indigenous settings as sites of cross-cultural encounter. Alvarez is a reliable guide, and her book is a major contribution to performance studies as it engages with the simulated ‘real.’”
​—Ric Knowles, University of Guelph

Winner: Canadian Association for Theatre Research 2019 Ann Saddlemyer Award

- CATR Ann Saddlemyer Award

"Reading Natalie Alvarez’s Immersions in Cultural Difference: Tourism, War, Performance is a fantastic reminder of what theatre and performance studies have to offer...The analysis is run through with deep description and sometimes chilling impressions as Alvarez brings the reader into the immersions under investigation."
--Journal of American Drama and Theatre

- Canadian Association for Theatre Research (CATR) Journal of American Drama and Theatre