18. Reading: Doing Sensory Ethnography

In my search for methodological entries to researching affect, I came across Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography (2009, SAGE Publications) as one of the core texts on sensory ethnographic approaches. And even though the connection of affects and senses is not as obvious as it may look, given that a five-sense-sensorium is a cultural construct, and considering the debate of whether affects are or are not pre-social, the volume does offer a very broad overview about the research done in relation to these five senses (and place-making). In general, it is easy to read, not too theory-ladden, and full of good examples. I really enjoyed the scope of research (and art, architecture and everyday-practice inputs), which allow for a very nice entry into the world of sensory ethnography.

The book centers on three mayor steps in the sensory research process, which are the theoretical baselines and ethic considerations for research on and with the senses, the practices in the field, and the interpretation and representation of (sensory) findings. The last part could have been a lot more experimental for my taste, especially considering the author’s argument for ways of writing that appeal to the senses, and overall the text became somewhat repetitive toward the end. But in genera, it is a good starting point to explore anthropological perspectives on the senses and how to research them.

How did I come across the book?

I think I first heard about Sarah Pink when I was still writing my M.A. thesis. I spend a few days at the Grimm Zentrum with two colleagues, who were both working on papers related to alternative (read: feminist, decolonial) research methodologies. Over lunch, I listened attentively to their talk and made a ‘head-note’ on reading Pink someday.

When and where did I read it?

It’s been in my office for quite a while, and it’s really not a big book. However, it took me a bit to get started, and towards the end I actually fell asleep on several occassions. But I think I made it in less than a week, reading a chapter every once in a while.

 

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