Sensory anthropology and the study of atmospheres, David Howes, mercredi 29 janvier 2020, 18h, ENSAG

This presentation offers an overview of the sensory turn in anthropology, which crystallized in the early 1990s and has since spread to other disciplines.

Sensory anthropology stands for a cultural approach to the study of the senses and a sensory approach to the study of culture: the senses are treated as both object of study and means of inquiry.

The preferred method of sensory anthropology is sensory ethnography, as summarized by François Laplantine in The life of the senses: Toward a modal anthropology: “the experience of [ethnographic] fieldwork is an experience of sharing in the sensible [partage du sensible]”.1

We observe, we listen, we speak with others, we partake of their cuisine, we try to feel along with them what “they experience”. The emphasis is thus on achieving empathy and understanding through “participant sensation”.2

Sensory ethnography departs in this respect from the standard anthropological method of “participant observation” by abjuring the status of the observer and seeking instead to sense and make sense along with others.

Various case studies drawn from the author’s own ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea will be presented by way of illustration of the methodology in action. The focus then shifts to the question of how best to communicate anthropological knowledge: the creation of “performative sensory environments”, which engage all the senses in a kind of symphony of sensations, is presented as an alternative to the conventional ethnographic monograph (with its verbalism) and ethnographic film (with its heightened visualism).

The presentation concludes with some reflections on the extension of sensory ethnography to the study of atmospheres (after Gernot Böhme) and the burgeoning field of sensory design.

David Howes is Professor of Anthropology
Co-Director, Centre for Sensory Studies
Director, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University, Montreal-Tiohtià:ke, Kanien’kehá:ka territory
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Cette invitation du conférencier David Howes (en anglais) sera l’occasion de débattre et d’interroger ce que nous apprend une anthropologie des sens.

This invitation from speaker David Howes will be an opportunity to debate and question what an anthropology of the senses teaches us.

Conférence suivie d’une “sensory walking tour” avec David Howes le jeudi 30 janvier 2020 en matinée, ouverte à tous.

Conference followed by a «sensory walk» with David Howes the next morning, open to participants.

  1. Laplantine, François. 2005. Le social et le sensible: introduction à une anthropologie modale. Paris, France : Téraèdre. 220 p. []
  2. François Laplantine. The Life of the Senses: Introduction to a Modal Anthropology, translated by Jamie Furniss (Sensory Studies Series) published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2015. https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-life-of-the-senses-9781472522382/. D Howes wrote the preface to the english translation of that book. Available online : http://centreforsensorystudies.org/occasional-papers/the-extended-sensorium/ []

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