Sensorial Worlds of Production and Consumption

Convenors: Shawnee Harkness & Clelia Viecelli (University of Southampton)


The sensorial aspect of conducting fieldwork has been recently noticed by anthropologists (see e.g. Classen and Howes 1996, Ingold 2000, Grasseni 2004, Pink 2009). The traditional ethnographic practice of participant observation, it has been remarked, is better framed as a multisensory engagement with the field and the people living in it, as well as an emplaced way of knowing. By sharing with our informants the same sensuous reality, as ethnographers we intimately experiment and learn other ways of being in, and perceiving the world. Within this perspective, learning and knowing are situated in embodied practice and movement. In this sense, the process of apprenticeship initiated in the field takes on novel ontological considerations.

This panel seeks to explore how sensory ethnography as a research method can become ontologically relevant in social and cultural contexts where the senses represent a category of meaning. In particular, we invite contributions that focus on sensorial worlds of production and consumption. This will draw attention to the role sensory ethnography plays in providing new insights that take into account the multi-sensorial aspects of the processes behind production and/or consumption of sensuous commodities.

We welcome case studies engaging with sensory ethnography as the main research method in contexts of production and/or consumption where the senses hold crucial significance for our informants and their lives. This may include, but is not limited to, artisanal and/or industrial production of goods which require an intimate and sensuous engagement with various materials and environments; emergent forms of consumption which explicitly rely on the role and value of our senses (i.e. the so-called “experience economy”); pleasure and intoxication driven commodities such as alcohol (i.e. wine, whiskeys, and beer), drugs (i.e. coffee, cannabis, and coca), or food (i.e. chocolate, sugar cane, and avocados);

Open Questions

- What are the challenges attached to the sensorial study of commodities and consumption?

- What are the differences in terms of sensorial engagement between the industrial model of production and consumption, and a more small-scale, artisanal one?

- With a rise in popularity for commodities like artisanal coffee, craft beer, and recreational cannabis, how might the sensorial study of consumption change how we frame our research questions, theoretical tools, methods, metrics, and modes of interpretation?

- More broadly, how has sensory ethnography shaped anthropological theory?


Sensory ethnography, senses, sensuous commodities, pleasure, production, consumption, intoxication.

Fields of Study

Anthropology of the senses, cultural studies, sensory sociology, consumer research, human geography, environmental studies.


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