other academic icon

The Senses and Society

Location: University of Leeds
Date: December 3rd 2014


How might the multisensory experience of a particular location inform the cultural phenomena that occur within it?

In what ways do the human senses structure power relations in society?

What methods might be used to study the relationships between multisensory experiences, the sentient body and cultural phenomena?

The aim of this session is to open a discussion related to ethnographic research that foregrounds the role the human senses might play in informing cultural phenomena. Questioning the dominance of visual research methods and the effectiveness of the written word in representing multisensory fieldwork experiences, we will discuss the new ways of knowing that may be revealed by rethinking established ethnographic methods. We will address the recent contestation introduced by attempts to define the terms ‘sensory anthropology’ and ‘sensory ethnography’ and draw upon a specific ethnographic case study of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, which asserts that sensory experiences establish ethnic identity and reveal cultural politics of difference and inequality.


This reading group was a great learning experience. Our discussions regarding the definition of sensory ethnography and the contestation that has arisen regarding this matter were very thought‑provoking. As I had not facilitated a reading group before, I also learned a lot about guiding academic debate and ensuring that everyone had the opportunity to represent their ideas.