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Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives

Atmospheres conference

1-2 July 2015, The University of Manchester

Atmospheres play a significant role in, and add an important quality to, our intimate, domestic and public lives, yet are often overlooked in social research, not least because of the methodological challenges involved in 'capturing' them.

In this major conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Morgan Centre, we will be using the theme of 'atmospheres' as our starting point for interdisciplinary dialogue.

Keynote speakers

'Inner Worlds - the language of where we live' - Simon Armitage

In some ways poems are atmospheres all of their own, and poetry the evocation of small worlds we can experience and inhabit. Poems create a kind of tone or mood, an emotional atmosphere as oppose to a scientific one, with language often being used to describe the sense of something - how it feels, from an individual point of view - rather than for the purpose of information or fact.

In my own writing I connect this very much with a sense of place, given that so much of our language comes from the geography of our upbringings (eg dialect, vocabulary, syntax), and looking back over my work I think a sense of location and an urge to say something about the atmospheres of particular (often northern) places has been an ongoing concern for something like twenty five years.

I'll be reading poems, prose extracts and talking about my approach to writing about place, with emphasis on landscapes and environments, some real, some remembered, and some entirely imagined, and also talking about the Stanza Stones project, where poems were written not just about the landscape but actually placed within it.


Simon Armitage was born in West Yorkshire, has taught at several universities in the UK and the United States, and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield. He has published over a dozen collections of award-winning poetry including Seeing Stars (2010), his acclaimed translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007) and more recently Paper Aeroplane - Selected Poems 1989- 2104, covering twenty five years of published work.
Armitage is also a playwright, novelist, song-lyricist and broadcaster, and his writing for television and radio includes the BAFTA-winning Feltham Sings and the drama-documentary Black Roses: the Killing of Sophie Lancaster. His bestselling memoir Walking Home (2012) describes travelling the Pennine Way as a modern troubadour, and Stanza Stones (2013) records the project to engrave seven poems across the South Pennine watershed.
In 2014, The Last Days of Troy, Armitage's visceral re-telling of the story of the Iliad, was performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and Shakespeare's Globe, London, and published by Faber.
Simon was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004 and awarded the CBE for services to poetry in 2010.

The Socio-Atmospherics of Weather - Jennifer Mason

Atmosphere - Any surrounding influence of pervading feeling (Chambers)

Atmospheric pressure - Pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere (OED)

Why don't social scientists engage with atmospheres more than they do? After all, everyone has experienced and been touched by atmospheres such as the fever pitch of a riot; an undertow of tension and emotional chill in a family home; the grim camaraderie and ironic humour in a town repeatedly inundated by floods; a smell, a taste or a snatch of music that 'literally' (I use the term advisedly) transports you to another time and place and conjures its atmosphere in your mind, body and senses. Atmospheres bring into play not only human interactions, imaginaries, and sensations, but a wider more-than-human world of things, lives, rhythms, energies, elements, forces, places and times. Atmospheres are conjured and perceived in multi-sensory, extra-sensory, and ineffable ways. They can feel simultaneously tangible and intangible. We can know and experience them intimately, we can dream them, yet we are often (unless we are particularly talented creative writers or artists) unable to articulate or describe them without compromise. Atmospheres, then, should come within the remit of social science not only because they are a potent - sometimes defining - part of people's experiences of being alive and their knowledge of living in the world, but also because they are undeniably part of 'the social'.

I shall pursue these ideas in relation to weather and season. It is well known that weather has something to do with atmosphere in a scientific sense, but I want to make a more sociological argument about it's centrality in the atmospheres of our lives, our times - or what I'd like to think of as the socio-atmospherics of everyday life. I shall argue that although social scientists of almost everything-but-the-weather actually ignore the weather, we only have to stop and think for a moment about our own experience of 'being alive' (in the Ingoldian sense) to realise that weather is implicated in so much of what we do: how we go about living, how we interact, how we feel, how we remember, our sense of self and others, where we belong, and so on. A curious omission indeed. If we resist conceptualising weather primarily as a scientifically defined and measured set of external elements or forces, or as a trivial obsession (for the British at least), and instead seek to explore it as experienced, perceived and alive, then I think we can begin to understand how it might come into play with the multidimensional melee of human and more-than-human elements that constitute everyday lives.


Jennifer is Professor in Sociology. She joined The University of Manchester in September 2005, when she became founding Co-Director (with Professor Carol Smart) of the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. She continued co-directing the Morgan Centre until January 2015. She has directed two 'nodes' of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods: Real Life Methods (2005-2008), and Realities (2008-2011). Prior to Manchester, Jennifer was Reader in Sociology at the University of Leeds. Jennifer is currently Vice Chair of the ESRC Research Committee, and Chair of the ESRC Grants Delivery Group.
Jennifer’s research involves asking questions about ‘relatedness’, affinities, and connectedness in everyday personal lives. She has an enduring interest in kinship in particular, as well as other forms of relationship and association. Her recent research has also begun to explore connections between human and non-human worlds. As an indication of the range of her interests, recent projects (all conducted collaboratively with colleagues in the Morgan Centre) have included a study of family resemblances; a study of 'critical associations' (including positive and more 'toxic' forms of friendship and association); and a study of the way children create kinship with others. She is currently working on a book entitled 'Affinities: Personal Connections in Everyday Life', to be published by Polity, and she is just beginning a new project, funded through a Leverhulme Fellowship, called ‘Living the Weather’.
Throughout Jennifer’s research career, she has also cultivated a very strong interest in the methodologies that social scientists can use to explore these kinds of questions and generally to generate meaningful knowledge of lived realities. This has broadened into an interest in methodology and epistemology more generally. She is particularly interested in qualitative, creative and mixed method approaches, and in the challenge for social scientists of creating vibrant and resonant knowledge that lives up to the richness and vitality of real life experience, yet which is also robust and rigorous.

Imagination and History: Encountering the radical archivist Agnes Inglis (1870 -1924) through the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan - Sheila Rowbotham

I am writing a book about a group of late nineteenth British and American radicals who were associated with the Individualist or Philosophical Anarchists around the magazine Liberty.

My research took me to the Jo Labadie Collection at Ann Arbor, where I experienced not just the curious closeness one feels upon reading direct voices from the past, but also engaging with the responses of the remarkable first activist who built up the archive, Agnes Inglis (1870-1924).

I found myself admiring the sensitivity and meticulous diligence with which she encouraged the contributors to send their documents and reflections about a small political network which had well nigh dissolved by the 1920s. The result was a double imagining, stumbling into their lives and hopes, and her conviction that they must be recorded.


After studying history at St Hilda's College, Oxford, Sheila began her career lecturing in Liberal Studies at Chelsea College of Advanced Technology. After working for several years as an Extra Mural Lecturer at London University Sheila was appointed Visiting Professor in Women's Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Working as a research officer for the Greater London Council's Industry and Employment Department, she produced a newspaper 'Jobs for Change' and contributed to the London Industrial Strategy. This led to an invitation to become Consultant Research Adviser for the Women's Programme, World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) at the United Nations University.

Sheila has also been Course Tutor on the Women's Studies MA at the University of Kent, Visiting Professor at the University of Paris VIII, Visiting Professor in Political Economy at Carleton University before joining The University of Manchester as a Simon Fellow in 1993, and returning in 1995 as a Research Fellow.

Sheila's main area of study has been the historical and contemporary position of women, the history of feminism and women's movements along with the history of labour, socialist and anarchist groups.

These grew out of her involvement in radical and feminist politics in the 1960s and 70s. Sheila's work at the GLC and for the UN generated interest in democratising economic and social policy, women's global labour networks and especially links between home workers globally.

Her teaching in Sociology contributed to her interest in culture and social change. Sheila's main focus since 2001 has been on social and cultural history.

Conference programme

The socio-atmospherics of weather - Jennifer Mason (The University of Manchester)

Paper session 1

1a. Atmospheres in time

  • 'Haunted Atmospheres: trans-temporality, archival time and historical resistance' - Jane Webb (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • 'Atmospheres of War' - Adi Moreno (University of Manchester) and Michal Nahman (The University of the West of England)
  • 'Architectural atmosphere and the man-place relationship: the case study of the Dominguez House (1970-1980) - Sandra Costa Santos (Northumbria University)

1b. Bad atmospheres

  • 'The Aroma of Bad Taste: the atmosphere of the Working Class home and its representation in the Literature of Design Reform' - Christine Atha (University of Leeds)
  • '''I try not to breathe when I go in': Managing reactions when working with people who self-neglect' - Elaine Aspinwall-Roberts (Liverpool John Moores University)
  • 'Suspicion and the uncanny in children's social work: an exploration of findings from two ethnographic studies' - Dharman Jeyasingham (Lancaster University) and Jadwiga Leigh (University of Sheffield)

1c. Place-specific atmospheres I

  • 'From the arcade to the art show: the changing faces of Margate town' - Andrew Jackson (Canterbury Christ Church University)
  • 'Between the rural and the urban: atmospheres of everyday participation in Aberdeen' - Jill Ebrey (The University of Manchester)
  • ''The smell of jute, linseed, polish ... the sound of the sewing machines: a multi-sensory interpretation of a much-loved and historic local store' - Wendy Couchman (London South Bank University) and Annabel Foot

1d. Atmospheres of belonging

  • ''Dreamers of curtains' and 'furniture without memories': place, belonging and Atmosphere' - Sarah Wilson (University of Stirling)
  • 'Belonging, place and a 'holiday' atmosphere: Retired British Women living in Spain' - Anya Ahmed (University of Salford)
  • 'Atmospheres acting on communities: how belonging affects group identity when communities move' - Jack Coffin (The University of Manchester)

Paper session 2

2a. Atmospheres and collective action

  • 'Atmospheres of Revolt and Retaliation: The Campaign of the Militant Suffragettes' - Gemma Edwards (The University of Manchester) 
  • 'The affective atmosphere of a protest camp: Entering Occupy London Finsbury Square' - Jamie Matthews (The University of Manchester)
  • 'Collective atmospheres: understanding crowds with Canetti and Schmitz' - Simon Runkel (University of Bonn)

2b. Social atmospheres

  • 'Snobbery: The Atmosphere of Distinction' - David Morgan (The University of Manchester)
  • 'Affecting Taste: How affective atmospheres (re) shape the experience of taste and classed distinction during moments of tourism and leisure' - Emily Falconer (Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research)
  • 'Atmospheres and the politics of collective emotion: constructing the nation as an angry subject in response to child abuse' - Jo Warner (University of Kent)

2c. Designing atmosphere

  • 'Light, dark and atmosphere: recent events and installations' - Tim Edensor (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • 'The 'Making' of Atmospheres in the Aesthetic Economy' - Mona Sloane (London School of Economics)

2d. Sensory atmospheres

  • 'Velo-mobile Atmospheres: capturing and representing the multi-sensual cycling experience' - Tim Jones (Oxford Brookes University)
  • 'Atmospheres of pleasure and danger: sociological phenomenology and women's sporting embodiment' - Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson (University of Lincoln)

Paper session 3

3a. Intimate/domestic atmospheres

  • 'Sensorial Atmospheres of Shared Living in England' - Katherine Davies (University of Sheffield) and Rachael Scicluna (The University of Manchester)
  • ''I've redeemed myself by being a 1950's 'housewife'': Family atmosphere and parent-grandparent relationships in the context of lesbian childbirth' - Petra Nordqvist (The University of Manchester)
  • 'Researching migrants' homes: the atmosphere of Russianness' - Anna Pechurina (Leeds Beckett University)

3b. Atmosphere and memorialisation

  • 'Exploring the experiential of Natural Burial: revisiting our data' - Andy Clayden and Trish Green (University of Sheffield)
  • 'Atmospheres of Intimacy: Spontaneous Memorials as Urban Interiors' - Russell Rodrigo (University of New South Wales Australia)
  • 'Commemorative atmospheres' - Shanti Sumartojo (RMIT University)

3c. Place-specific atmospheres II

  • 'Vibes: curating atmospheres in a pop up street food market in London' - Paz Concha (London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • 'The everyday rhythms and atmospheres of Billingsgate fish market' - Dawn Lyon (University of Kent)
  • 'The Evolution of Personal Perception: the Atmosphere of Belonging within the Context of Prefabricated Socialist Estates' - Bartlomiej Sapeta (Keene State College)

3d. Affective atmosphere

  • 'Feeding off the Buzz: The Production of Affective Atmospheres within Leeds' Extreme Metal Music Scene' - Gabby Riches (Leeds Beckett University)
  • 'Becoming Goth: Affective Atmospheres and Sites of Encounter' - Zoe Enstone 
  • ''Why Are We Cheering? It's Just What We Do!': Affective Atmospheres, Drinking Crowds and Beer Festivals' - Thomas Thurnell-Read (Coventry University)

Plenary session 2

Imagination and History: Encountering the radical archivist Agnes Inglis (1870 - 1924) through the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan - Sheila Rowbotham

Paper session 4

4a. Drawing atmosphere

  • 'Capturing the atmosphere of academic life through observational sketching: the art of everyday life in the Morgan Centre' - Sue Heath (The University of Manchester) and Lynne Chapman (Artist)
  • 'Conversation, collage and dyptichal definitions of architectural atmosphere' - James Burch (University of the West of England)

4b. Institutional atmospheres

  • 'How does it feel to live here? The sensescapes of dementia care' - Sarah Campbell (The University of Manchester)
  • 'Atmospheres of home within older people's residential accommodation' - Melanie Lovatt (University of Sheffield)

4c. Atmospheres and dress

  • 'Materializing atmospheres in dementia care: negotiating privacy, home and transition through dress' - Christina Buse (University of Leeds) and Julia Twigg (University of Kent)
  • 'Dress as a moveable sensory space for the body' - Sara Chong Kwan (London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London)

4d. Artistic encounters with atmosphere

  • 'Architectural photography and atmospheric presencing' - Stephen Loo (University of Tasmania) and Marc Goodwin (Aalto University)
  • 'Place Processing: a series of site-specific art installations in the same space which explore the impact of different materials, objects, sounds and layout on our experience of place' - Val Murray and Lynn Pilling (Tea)

Plenary session 3

  • 'Inner Worlds - the language of where we live' - Simon Armitage