Department of English

University of Toronto

“Sensory Ethnography: Between Art and Anthropology”

Event date: Friday, October 19, 2018, from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Location: Emmanuel College (EM), Room 119 75 Queen’s Park

“Sensory Ethnography: Between Art and Anthropology”
By: Dr. David Howes

Sensory ethnography is the method of choice for social science researchers interested in the study of the sensorial construction of reality. Francois Laplantine sums it up nicely in The Life of the Senses: Introduction to a Modal Anthropology: “The experience of fieldwork is an experience of sharing in the sensible [partage du sensible]. We observe, we listen, we speak with others, we partake of their cuisine, we try to feel along with them what they experience.”

The first part of this paper presents a survey of some classical and some breaking applications of this methodology of participant sensation, from Kathryn Geurts’ empathic account of the enculturation of the senses among the Anlo-Ewe of Ghana to Mark Doerksen’s doctoral research on the augmentation of the senses through the use of magnetic implants in the grinder subculture of California.

The second part describes how some researchers have started experimenting with alternate platforms to communicate their findings—beyond the ethnographic monograph and beyond ethnographic film—such as by constructing “performative sensory environments.” Neither installation art nor museum display, yet in some ways both, these environments are “between art and anthropology.” But how are these exercises in research-creation to be evaluated? And what new forms of aesthetic experience might they unleash?

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