School of Arts



Margrethe Bruun Vaage’s main area of research is the spectator's engagement with fictional films and television series, and more specifically the imagination, the emotions and the moral psychology of fiction.

Her most recent publication is the monograph The Antihero in American Television (Routledge 2016), in which she explores how we as spectators engage with morally bad main characters in television series such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter and Breaking Bad.

She holds a PhD in media studies from the University of Oslo, and has published widely in Norwegian and English, with papers in journals and anthologies in aesthetics, philosophy and film studies, such as the British Journal of Aesthetics, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, and Screen.

She is currently the School Deputy Director of Graduate Studies (PGT).

She is also a Fellow and Board member of The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image.

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Vaage, M. (2016). The Antihero in American Television. Routledge. Available at:
Book section
Vaage, M. (2015). On the Repulsive Rapist and the Difference between Morality in Fiction and Real Life. in: Zunshine, L. ed. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies. Oxford University Press. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2014). "The Imagined Observer Hypothesis". in: Branigan, E. and Buckland, W. eds. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory. Routledge, pp. 258-262. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2014). "Blinded by Familiarity: Partiality, Morality and Engagement in Television Series". in: Nannicelli, T. and Taberham, P. eds. Cognitive Media Theory. Routledge, pp. 268-284. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2013). Fictional reliefs and reality checks. Screen [Online] 54:218-237. Available at:
Blanchet, R. and Vaage, M. (2012). Don, Peggy, and Other Fictional Friends? Engaging with Characters in Television Series. Projections [Online] 6:18-41. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2010). Fiction Film and the Varieties of Empathic Engagement. Midwest Studies In Philosophy [Online] 34:158-179. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2009). Self-Reflection: Beyond Conventional Fiction Film Engagement. Nordicom Review 30:159-178.
Vaage, M. (2009). The Role of Empathy in Gregory Currie's Philosophy of Film. British Journal of Aesthetics [Online] 49:109-128. Available at:
Vaage, M. (2007). Empathie. Zur Episodishen Struktur der Teilhabe am Spielfilm. Montage A/V 16:101-120.
Bruun Vaage, M. (2018). On Punishment and Why We Enjoy It in Fiction: Lisbeth Salander of the Millennium Trilogy and Eli in Let the Right One In as Scandinavian Avengers. Poetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication.
Total publications in KAR: 11 [See all in KAR]


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Research Interests

My area of specialization is cognitive film theory, at the intersection between film theory, analytical philosophy, cognitive psychology and narratology. Thematically, my work focuses on the study of the imagination, the emotions, morality, spectator engagement, and fiction in both film and television.

I have just published a monograph entitled The Antihero in American Television (Routledge, 2016). The antihero prevails in recent American drama television series. Characters such as mobster kingpin Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), meth cook and gangster-in-the-making Walter White (Breaking Bad) and serial killer Dexter Morgan (Dexter) are not morally good, so how do these television series make us engage in these morally bad main characters? And what does this tell us about our moral psychological make-up, and more specifically, about the moral psychology of fiction? In this book, I argue that the fictional status of these series deactivates rational, deliberate moral evaluation, making the spectator rely on moral emotions and intuitions that are relatively easy to manipulate with narrative strategies. Nevertheless, I also argue that these series regularly encourage reactivation of deliberate, moral evaluation. In so doing, these fictional series can teach us something about ourselves as moral beings—what our moral intuitions and emotions are, and how these might differ from deliberate, moral evaluation.

The main thesis in my PhD dissertation, Seeing is Feeling. On the Function of Empathy for the Spectator of Fiction Film, is that empathy, as feeling aspects of a character's experience, has an important function for the spectator of fiction film. The paper “Fiction Film and the Varieties of Empathic Engagement” sums up the major findings of the dissertation. Other parts of the dissertation are published as “Self-Reflection: Beyond Conventional Fiction Film Engagement” and as “The Role of Empathy in Gregory Currie’s Philosophy of Film”.

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In 2016/17 I convene the following modules:

FI812 “Advanced Film Theory” is a core module on our Film MA programme. In this module we examine the historical trajectory of systematic writing about film. The module will help students understand the major theoretical debates and improve their analytical skills. In addition to giving a historical overview of film theory, the module focuses on theories of spectator engagement. It also introduces the students to the differences between continentally informed and analytical film theories, and to reflect on what film theory is and should be.

FI622 “Television series: narration, engagement and evaluation” (3rd year, Film BA) explores storytelling in fictional television series, and how the long duration of these series changes the spectator’s engagement, as compared to engagement in the relatively short fiction film. The module also addresses how television series are valued in critical reception. For example, we will examine the implications of the label ‘Quality TV’. Finally, we will investigate The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and other series in an inquiry into the narrative as well as moral complexity of this recent trend of American drama television series, and the emerging genre convention of the antihero.

I also convene FI583 “National Cinema and Identity” (2nd year, Film BA). We explore the very idea of national cinema as well as the concept ‘transnational cinema’ theoretically, and used Scandinavian cinema as a case study. We discuss questions such as these:
·  How is an American genre such as a Western appropriated in a Norwegian national context (as in Pathfinder)?
·  Or vampire film in a Swedish context (as in Let The Right One In)?
·  What is the difference between the Swedish Lisbeth Salander and this character in David Finsher’s American remake of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo?
· What is Scandinavian crime (or Nordic Noir), is there anything specifically Scandinavian about it, and has it influenced crime fiction in the UK?

Finally, I teach FI607, “Storytelling and the Cinema” (2nd year, Film BA). Understanding a film involves making sense not only of its story, its events and actions, but also of its storytelling, of the way in which we come to learn of these events and actions. This module explores different forms of narration and storytelling in cinema, focusing on questions of structure, reliability and temporality. The psychological and aesthetic role of narrative is explored through a range of theories and analyses from within film studies as well as from psychology and philosophy in order to explore how the use of e.g., focalization, narrators, plot twists and irony can complicate our comprehension of and engagement with a film.

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I supervise undergraduate or postgraduate students with projects in (analytical/cognitive) film theory, philosophy of film, television studies and narratology. I particularly welcome projects latching onto my own areas of specialization, e.g., the study of the imagination, the emotions, morality, spectator engagement, and fiction both in film and television.

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Last Updated: 19/06/2017