Accepted paper:

Sensory entanglements: sense-based research and communication in anthropology


David Howes (Concordia University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides an introduction to the field of sensory museology and draws out its implications for the reform of current museum display practices and the creation of performative, intercultural multisensory environments

Paper long abstract:

This paper begins by charting the emergence of sensory studies as an autonomous field and method of inquiry. Its genesis is traced to the sensory turn in a range of humanities and social science disciplines, which gave rise to such fields as the history of the senses, anthropology of the senses, and, most recently, sensory museology. Incorporating a sensory studies approach into the curation of indigenous artifacts has resulted in a radical transformation of "the exhibitionary complex." In place of didactic displays which isolate artifacts in glass cases, the emphasis now is on the museum space as a kind of sensory gymnasium in which visitors are invited to experiment with alternate ways of sensing through encounters with objects of diverse provenance. Citing examples which range from Iroquois false face masks to the Inca quipu (a 3-D mnemonic device composed of knotted strings of varying colours), this paper makes a case for sense-based investigations of the varieties of aesthetic experience across cultures. In so doing, the paper also reports on some of the findings of the "Sensory Entanglements" project, a joint venture with Chris Salter (holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in New Media, Technology and the Senses) that has involved creating intercultural, performative multisensory environments for the communication of anthropological knowledge, as an alternative to both the ethnographic monograph and ethnographic film.

panel P08
Sensational knowledge: emotional and sensory encounters as ways of knowing