Sensing power: exploring different forms of sensory politics and agency

Simone Dennis (Australian National University)
Andrew Russell (Durham University)
Felix Ringel (Durham University)
Napier G04
Start time:
12 December, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Sensory anthropology is oft criticised for not attending to issues of power. However, ethnographic attention to the senses offers rich insights into power's subtle operations. This panel invites sensorially attuned analyses of power and agency that explore how power is both wielded and resisted.

Long abstract:

Scott (1998) invites us to consider seeing like a state. But as Howes (1991) reminds us, vision is not the only sense with which we can access and analyse social life. The whole sensory suite provides anthropologists with ready admission to everyday worlds. Sensory analyses can equally reveal the subtle yet forceful forms of power exerted by 'big players' such as state institutions, public-private partnerships and transnational corporations, and the routes along which they travel into everyday lives. Sensory analysis of the promulgation of and resistance to power helps us to track and trace how power is vested in people's bodies, their experiences of, and being in, the world, and how it (re)shapes relations between them. While sensory anthropology's stance on embodiment has often been criticised for not attending to power relations, close ethnographic attention to the senses can offer us rich insights into the subtle operations of power. Already, analyses of product design may reveal a haptic politics informing our understandings of inclusive and exclusive institutional practices, and close attention to olfaction alerts us to inextricably intertwined environmental and class politics concerning industrial air pollution. Such examples attest to how people breathe, drink, eat and dwell in a complex web of food, health, environmental and other politics. This panel invites sensorially attuned analyses of power and agency that permit us access not only to how power is wielded, but also to how its force might be resisted.