In this Conversations episode of This Anthro Life, Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins explore the subject of sensory ethnography – a focus in anthropology that tends to deemphasize the written word to explore visual, acoustic, and other sensory perceptions. Today, researchers explore senses increasing in the media through virtual simulations, visual and auditory stimuli that cause different reactions (fostering disorientation or meditative states), and of course art. But, how we perceive the world around us can also be influenced by culture and our surroundings, from music, to dance, to collective effervescence. After all, viral examples in recent years (like theinfamous dress), demonstrate that human perception varies visually from person to person (often in the recognition of more or less recognized colors in the light spectrum). Individual distinctions aside, as humans we’re limited in our generally ability to sense and see the world around (infrared and ultraviolet light are imperceptible to us, for example). Yet, tactile sense is intrinsic to our relatively unique to our ability to produce and use tools. Though it tends to overlooked and under recognized in most anthropological settings, sense is critical to the human experience. This episode explores just a few examples of projects related to sensory ethnography and how they take us beyond our everyday experience of the perceived world around us.
Sense and perception has always been part of ethnographic work, but it hasn’t always been emphasized. According toDavid Howes, studies focused on sense perception have been documented as early as the 16th century, when smell, auditory, and visual perceptions were emphasized. In 20th Century ethnography, however, the senses took a backseat. Switching again in recent years, with broadly accessible digital video and auditory technologies, the senses have once again come back into focus.
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Here are some great episodes to start with.