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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Sensory knowledge and its circulation [EN]

Location Jakobi 2, 438
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2013 at 10:30


Lydia Maria Arantes (University College London) email
Elisa Rieger (University Graz) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel offers the opportunity to reflect on the role of sensory perception in accumulating knowledge within ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on how humans - in the research process as well as in everyday life - gather and circulate sensory knowledge.

Long Abstract

This panel proposal takes the conference call as an opportunity to reflect on the role of sensory perception in accumulating knowledge within ethnographic fieldwork. Assuming that circulations of sensory knowledge - in the process of research as well as in everyday life - require a preceding process of gathering experiences before they can be articulated, this panel asks especially about the ways sensory knowledge is described, shared and passed on. The role of the body in this regard is not merely one of being a tool of the mind but of much rather being a source of knowledge itself (Pink 2009). As the ethnographer completely immerses into the field studied, an integral approach to ethnographic practice therefore not only needs to give voice to sensory perception but also to the knowledge obtained from that.

We particularly invite authors to contribute to our panel who reflect on the role of sensory perception in their research on sociocultural practices as varied as dancing, crafting or meditating, etc. How does the body come to know and how can this knowledge be shared and passed on? Moreover, we welcome papers which discuss how disruptions of already known ways of perception are dealt with. Which role does trial-and-error learning play and what are its consequences for passing on embodied knowledge? Can patterns of knowledge circulation be identified? Finally, which methodological implications arise from addressing sensory knowledge in ethnographic practice? And where are the limitations of this kind of methodological approach?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Sensory experience, food and ethnographic apprenticeship in a Sicilian market, Catania

Author: Brigida Marovelli (Trinity College Dublin)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, the daily experience of buying food is seen as sensory experience. Thus the ethnography work within a market could only be carried out as an apprenticeship.

Long Abstract

The main line of research lies in my ethnographic work about a food market in Catania, Sicily. Learning to attain competence in 'the world of consumption' proved to be a multi-faceted process, transcending the mere activities of 'shopping' and 'buying'. The experience of the market is a totality of smells, sounds, consistencies, textures, and tastes, which follows customers home, until their kitchens and finally into their mouths. The market can be understood only in its overwhelming combination of perceptions, but it needs to be placed in a specific narrative of history, place and culture.

In this market a direct sensory relation with food is sought after, and represented as the traditional Sicilian way of experiencing food. It also helps to maintain a specific relationship to the landscape. It is the very performance of Sicilianess that takes the shape of a synaesthetic opera, in which different actors play their roles: acting, singing, sensing. The reciprocal orchestration of this piece is synaesthetic and kinaesthetic, marrying senses and movement together. It is exactly, and only, in the field of this cultural perception that one moves inside the market.

In such an environment, ethnography takes the shape of a sensory apprenticeship, which refers to the idea of food as craft and to the combination of bodily participation and cognitive knowledge. Apprenticeship implies participation and this way of looking at learning overcomes the dichotomy between body and mind.

Show me how to "correctly" gather a medicinal herb… Sensory perceptions as an ethnographic tool

Author: Julie Perrin (Université de Neuchâtel)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the inputs and limitations of sensory perceptions in the observation, description and analysis of the transmission of bodily techniques in the domain of domestic and artisanal herbal medicine in Switzerland.

Long Abstract

Based on a three-year fieldwork, my contribution deals with domestic and artisanal herbal medicine in Switzerland. Currently inspired by a romantic but also political representation of the relation between humans and "Nature", this activity consists in gathering and transforming medicinal herbs into therapeutic products for familial use or on small scale direct sale.

Most of the practitioners agree that the moment of gathering plays an essential role in the quality of the final product. The practice of medicinal herbs' gathering puts the body in constraining and painful postures and can, according to some representations of practitioners, affect negatively the product. In order to reach "harmony" in the interaction and exchange with this living material (i.e. herbs) and thus extract its best properties, the gatherer should take into account not only the meteorological conditions, the lunar calendar or the favourable hours of the day, but also her or his specific bodily and emotional dispositions before and during the gathering. Perceived as sources of knowledge, the gatherer has to continuously observe, reflect on and adapt her or his gestures to her or his sensory, subjective and situated perceptions. Several ethnographic examples relying on observations but also on my own participation will be mobilized in order to (1) overcome the classical opposition body vs. spirit, (2) show how the material actually acts on human perceptions and techniques, (3) discuss the inputs and limitations of the use of the body as an epistemological and methodological tool in ethnographic research.

Sensory engagement as a method to understand the aesthetic aspects involved in the connection between wider society and human everyday practices and experiences

Author: Karin Johansson (Karolinska Institutet)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores challenges and possibilities of being sensory engaged with the research participants’ everyday situation as a method to understand the aesthetic aspects invovled when values and institutional practices of the wider society is expressed in human everyday practices and experiences.

Long Abstract

This paper presents and discuss methodological challenges stemming from empirical research on older persons receiving home modification in Sweden, which addresses a situation where the intimate sphere of the home in a very concrete way - through an object brought in by the official service system - is connected to a specific cultural, political and historical context. In accordance with a body of recent literature on the anthropology of the senses and sensory ethnography I argue that approaching sensory experiences is key to understand how values and institutional practices of the wider society is expressed in human everyday practices and experiences. The ethnographic data illustrated how older persons expressed experiences of using and/or living with home modifications in terms such as ugly, dirty, loud, nice or pleasant. I understood this to indicate aesthetic evaluations of how the informants perceived the look, smell, sound and texture generated when they used the home modification. Further, those expressions implied a moral dimension in that they evaluated what was good and bad about the situation. This data was generated through the research participants invitations for me to engage with their their sensory experiences and moral judgements by looking, touchin, smelling and listening to how they used the modification. This paper adresses challenges and possibilities of being sensory engaged with the research participnats everyday situation as a method to understand the morals and/or aesthetic aspects invovled when values and institutional practices of the wider society is expressed in human everyday practices and experiences.

Dress, senses and generations

Author: Nadine Wagener-Böck (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper deals with the sensory perception of textiles, particular within families and mother-daughter relationships. Based on ethnographic fieldwork it focuses on exchange modes in terms of transmission and circulation, furthermore investigates the role of sensory knowledge within these processes.

Long Abstract

Clothes play a crucial role in life with regard to the perception of the body. To dress is like put one's body on display. Furthermore a particular garment gives shape to movements and causes visual, haptic, auditory and olfactory experiences. Hence, to dress is a concrete incorporating practice whereby social structure is embodied by the wearer. Based on this notion, the paper is dealing with clothes as means to articulate relationships between two generations. The paper draws from an ethnographic study in German mother-daughter relationships, and focuses on the significance of sensory knowledge in this context from a series of perspectives.

As the women were asked to describe their clothes in front of their wardrobes and additionally using family photo albums it became obvious, that the descriptions of sensory knowledge in different cohorts resembled. This leads to the assumption of distinct sensory experiences with regards to cut or fibre due to the sartorial biography of the wearer. As in families different cohorts come together this sensory memory is of importance in regard to the habitus. Hand-me-downs or items borrowed temporally appeared as material devices to establish and negotiate connectivities and dependence. In this respect clothes became a means to pass on "skilled visions" (Grasseni 2007). On the backdrop of such observations the paper seeks to discuss not just sensory knowledge as embodied knowledge in intergenerational relationships but also reflects the role of the researchers own perception in learning about the textiles in the field herself.

Sensing history? Knowledge circulation on themed walks and their ethnography

Author: Sarah Willner (Ludwig-Uhland-Institut für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation is concerned with the tourist and ethnographers perception of archaeological hiking trails in the Austrian and Italian Alps and the limits of mobile (auto)ethnography. In collecting hikers narratives about prehistory it questions the concept of an ahistoric body as an access to the past.

Long Abstract

Orders of sensory perception as well as emotions are culturally determined (Geurts 2002) and a manifestation of knowledge. At the same time they are a tool of knowledge production in terms of cultural practices. The research project is interested in hiking practices on archaeological trails and the production of historical knowledge. These practices conceptualize an ahistoric body and disregard it's cultural dimension (Jeggle 1986). For example, the hikers negotiate their bodily experiences into the copper age without questioning the cultural potential of their perception. Landscapes and atmospheres then achieve evidence character and refer to a long gone past.

This epistemic shortcut can be compared with the common understanding of the ethnographer's body being a research instrument that is able to collect a deeper understanding of the subject-matter. Here the (auto)ethnographer must soon experience the limits of describing subjective perception. I would like to discuss and compare the body concepts in historically interested theme hiking and mobile ethnography.

Sustaining a dynamic pause: serendipitous sensory knowledge of the performer-anthropologist in the Turkish urban soundscape

Author: Polina Tšerkassova  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the serendipitous journey of the anthropologist and performer towards gaining sensory knowledge and its subsequent interpretation and transmutation into a self-sustaining textual “reality”.

Long Abstract

In this paper I intend to invoke the idea of serendipity as a sudden and lucky "discovery", a kind of intuitive logic, or the lucidity of perception, with the help of which the accomodating logic of the anthropologist is able to grasp the sensory knowledge. I argue that in most of the cases, the process of gaining sensory serendipitous knowledge is seldom preset as a methodological target for our ethnographic fieldwork, one of the reasons for which can be traced back to the reductive idea of knowledge. Hence I emphasize the importance of a more conscious and purposeful recognition of the ways in which we gain a sudden sensory realisation which later may turn into a corner stone for a more acute understanding of our fieldwork.

Drawing from my ethnographic experience as a performing musician on an open-air stage in Bursa, Turkey, during one of my field trips, I argue that emotional involvement and openness to sensory encounters can be set as a methodological target. I show how the moment of the performer's forced silence during the concert, due to the simultaneous call for prayer from the minaret, becomes a serendipitous encounter with the expanding sensory perception, leading to articulation and reinterpretation of anthropological sense.

In arguing for the analytic tension between the sensory perception and its description and transmission, I look at how sensory knowledge is arrested, interpreted and moulded into a written ethnographic text.

Experimental settings on the non-visual

Author: Inga Reimers (HafenCity University)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation will be about the dominance of the visual in art, ethnography and every day culture and the search for forms of ethnographic/artistic research that are able to study and analyse non-visual knowledge.

Long Abstract

Sight and visual matters compared to such as tactile matters have been researched well. Especially in western cultures, cognition is mainly connected with the visual sense. Nevertheless or just for that reason questions concerning sensuality have been discussed increasingly. So the non-visible and embodied has become an important object of research not only in ethnology and cultural anthropology.

But research on sensual aspects involves problems in grasping the subject. So how can ethnographic research generate knowledge about hybrid and ambivalent subjects without reproducing established dichotomies? How can ambivalence and ambiguity be used as important means of cognition in ethnographic research? And could forms of artistic research answer some of these questions?

Taking these issues seriously one has to question the methods and (re-)presentations of ethnographic research dealing with sensory knowledge. Especially non-visual subjects often elude from established methods like participant observation or interviews. So a change of research settings could be an opportunity to handle this Intangibility.

My approach to these problems is a practice based, experimental research setting which includes lay researchers and their embodied knowledge for example blind people as experts of the non-visual. This form of collective research is not about blindness but a research with blind people about questions of non-visuality. It also rethinks research as a form of assembly and participation.

The presentation wants to discuss laboratories for the basic question on new forms of ethnographic research in artistic research and also look for methods of analysis of non-visual knowledge.

Observing the city: sensing aesthetics and atmospheres

Author: Simone Egger (Klagenfurt University )  email

Short Abstract

Dealing with aesthetics and atmospheres enriches an anthropological approach to the city. In sense of Chicago School's "nosing around" fieldwork means not only collecting information but also sensing and observing aesthetic qualities and situations.

Long Abstract

"Nosing around" is the classical slogan of Robert Ezra Park and the Chicago School of urban Sociology (Vgl. Park 1925). From this perspective fieldwork is not only collecting information but also sensing and observing the mood of an interview partner or a situation. Especially attending to an urban environment is hardly imaginable without feeling atmospheres.

Dealing with aesthetics enriches an anthropological approach. But occasionally these qualities seem to be neglected in contrast to "hard facts" like statements or statistics. However, being concerned with aesthetics appears to answer doing ethnography at all.

Many a time specific moodedness is mentioned in urban contexts. German philosophers Wolfgang Welsch and Gernot Böhme think about new understandings of aesthetic qualities. They are interested in settings, which let an atmosphere grow, and differentiate between practices of creating and practices of percepting. Atmospheres can communicate between poles, the city as a whole and the city in their parts, everyday life and habitus, history and presence. Atmospheres can attach various levels in a city's texture.

In several ways the body of a researcher becomes a medium of sensual knowledge itself. On one hand experiencing architecture or urban spaces could be a seen as an aesthetical practice, and a participant observer always has to handle with dispositions. On the other hand interview partners transport stories and memories not only via comments but also via emotions and sensitivities. Following the circulation of knowledge researcher's body can be understood as an acceptor of these vibrations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.