David Howes is Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
Howes explores how in anthropology and the humanities and social sciences more generally, the privileging of texts characteristic of the linguistic turn was initially replaced by the privileging of images within the visual turn. From the late 1980s, anthropologists of the senses began to move beyond the visual turn and asked: ‘Instead of reading or writing culture, and instead of visualising culture, what about sensing culture?’ An understanding of culture as a ‘sense-making activity’ began to emerge, in which the senses were conceived of ‘as made and not given’. Sense refers to both ‘sensation and signification, to feeling and meaning’. Attending to the senses allows for a more capacious understanding of meaning, as meaning isn’t confined to language alone but to a range of activities that ‘make sense’.
Margaret Wetherell is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
In her talk, Wetherell focuses on human affect and emotion: how they are embodied; how they register as a ‘standpoint on what is unfolding in front of us and the investment we have in different sorts of outcomes’; and how they are ‘action oriented’. Affect and emotion are becoming codified in contemporary social science. While affect has come to mean the subjective, phenomenological experience of an ‘undifferentiated hit of the world on bodies and minds’, emotion increasingly refers to when that ‘undifferentiated state has been turned into a particular conventional, cultural category, like anger or joy’. Wetherell goes on to critically evaluate some of the main threads of the turn to affect in recent research, and proposes an alternative ‘affective practice’ approach.
Tim Dant is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University.
Emerging from and as reaction to the linguistic turn, Dant discusses how the turn toward materiality recognised the importance of ordinary objects – like clothes, cooking utensils, bicycles – as the ‘things’ that ‘make human lives work’. The philosopher Barthes was deeply interested in how bodies emerge as material entities carrying meanings that are ‘consumed by an audience and made sense alongside other material things’. Baudrillard’s writings later worked to ‘recover and make significant the materialism of Marx’, bringing in aspects of French anthropology, linking ‘materiality and its meaning to consumption.’ While recent anthropological work demonstrates how culture is ‘expressed and experienced through directly bodily engagement with material things’, the field of science and technology studies refuses to treat objects in isolation but rather as parts of systems, demonstrating how objects organise, shape and constrain human action. Finally, Dant turns to the practice of engaging with materiality through repair, and how maintaining and repairing objects encourages a pragmatic, ethical orientation to the material world.
To further the conversations initiated at the event, our blog page is updated regularly with posts from event participants, in which they reflect on issues raised in the talks for their own research ambitions and intellectual explorations.