By Beth & Laurian
We are presenting a paper and co-chairing a panel at the upcoming American Anthropology Meetings to celebrate the twenty-year publication of Paul Stoller’s Sensuous Scholarship. Read below to see what we are up to!
Since its publication twenty years ago, Paul Stoller’s Sensuous Scholarship has informed not just what we write but how we write as ethnographers. In it, Stoller calls for a “sensory awakening,” one in which scholars fuse the sensible and the intelligible in our writings and representations. He argues that an understanding of being human is not necessarily found in bodies-in-action, but through the kinds of emotions and bodily practices people employ in order to feel connected to others or part of something bigger than ourselves. Stoller asks us to think about what we already know through our embodied encounters in the field, and to unpack how proof (of anything) remains a deeply personal and subjective experience. Stoller reminds us that we go into the field not as experts but as students and collaborators, a model that places humility at its core.
This retrospective session takes close look at the legacy of this “sensory turn” for ethnographic explorations of wellness, embodiment, post-colonial subjectivity, and memory. We consider how the sensory turn in fieldwork, methodology and theory allows a deeper consideration of positionality through humane perspectives. Rather than analyze the actions that rise from emotions, what has it meant to center sensibilities? How has sensuous ethnography caused the unlearning of certain methodology or complicated the already tenuous notions of fieldwork? In what ways have we as scholars attempted to resolve tensions between experience and its representation? Papers in this panel will address how anthropologists write evocatively and appeal to broader audiences while still addressing the pressing concerns of the discipline.
Casey examines how anthropologists come to recognize sensuous epistemologies in unfamiliar places by habituating themselves to everyday life, in this case leading to a richer understanding of possession, witchcraft, and evil eye in Nigeria. Bowles and Uzwiak attend to the ways in which intersubjective moments during fieldwork in Belize and Ghana demand attention in disorienting yet fruitful ways, and what attending to the sensory body during fieldwork says about feminist epistemologies. Sylvanus asks us to consider what happens when we fuse the sensory and the material and questions how changes in technology and the market shift theories of embodiment. Wilson-Falls brings the sensory and the visual together to discuss the possibilities (and questions) of representing fieldwork encounters.
Title: Between Humility and Hubris: Sensory Reflections on Feminist Fieldwork
Authors: Laurian R Bowles and Beth Uzwiak
Paper Abstract: In this paper, we use Sensuous Scholarship as a way to refine our understanding of epistemological flexibility in fieldwork. Through a conversational reflection, Laurian Bowles and Beth Uzwiak share a series of correspondence from concurrent feminist fieldwork projects in Belize and Ghana. We reclaim raw field-notes as moments that embrace lived experiences as data collection and honor the disorienting ways in which knowledge/s are produced through the sensory body—foundational to fieldwork itself. In doing so, we take up Stoller’s claim that approaching the emotions and affects of fieldwork as an embodied social practice yields narratives that are often excised from ethnographic projects tailored to the academy. We consider how the political economies of daily life serve as feminist counter-narratives that reject positivism. Through field-notes, we celebrate the multiple crossings of consciousness we experience as women in the field, and the ways that we are seen as researchers and activists. Situated between realpolitik and the academy, this panel disrupts the paper presentation format by also asking session participants to engage in a sensory exercise during the presentation.
Title: Accumulating Affects
Author: Conerly Casey
Paper abstract: Paul Stoller’s Sensuous Scholarship animated sensory studies across academic fields, shifting attention from individual senses, as categorized in EuroAmerican scholarship, to the sentient body. Working in Niger with Songhay sorcerers, and Hauka, possessed by French colonial spirits, Paul urged us to use our own bodies in scholarship—to enter new sensory relations of bodies and beings. Visual, textual readings of the body, Paul wrote, remove us from Songhay relations, and the fluid but more or less stable ensemble of relations, affects, practices, capacities and power of Songhay spirituality. As the body is culturally consumed by a world of forces, smells, textures, sights, sounds and tastes, cultural memories also reverberate across bodies, (re) producing power. Paul’s sensory approach prefigured interest in affect theory—and capacities of bodies to affect and be affected—as entanglements of feelings, qualities of intensity, force, or moods take shape between beings. But, Paul also emphasized subjectivities, attentions and intentions that evolve in and through living sensuous epistemologies. Sorcerers send fear or illness to people whose bodies they know will respond. Hauka entice spirits with music, perfumes or dance, specific to the tastes of each spirit. Highlighting Paul’s affects on my scholarship, I discuss encounters with other beings in Nigeria, and the epistemologies and ontologies that underpin a ‘sensory politics’ of spirit possession, witchcraft, evil eye and words. By living in the world, Paul taught me—habituating to everyday life with beings—in places where sensoria pervade the body, reverberating across bodies—new paths and knowledge open.
Key words: Sensory studies, epistemologies, ontologies
Author: Nina Sylvanus
Title: Sensuous Materiality
Paper abstract: What happens when we fuse sensory ethnography with the conventions, advances, and limitations of material culture? How is sensuous ethnography threatened by artifice and copies? In what ways are old notions of embodiment, archiving, and containment undone by the transformations of the market and technological changes? What sensibilities and dispositions arise from instability? What local and particular, situated and ethical idioms of knowledge do we elevate to ethnographic theory?
Title: Framing the Question: The Sensuous and the Serious
Author: Wendy Wilson-Fall
Paper abstract: In this paper I will engage Paul Stoller’s discussions about sensuous scholarship, the questions it leads to, and the results it makes possible in creating representations of field work realities. These reflections will be presented in dialogue with Achille Mbembe’s discussions about what he names “image ontology” and regimes of visualization which “privilege not the face [we are confronted with] but the a superficial reading of identities (WISER: “Raceless Future,” 2014).