‘Sensing Collectivities’ Ph.D. Summer School, Hamburg

This June in Hamburg is a Ph.D. Summer School in Hamburg with the theme of ‘Sensing Collectivities’, which runs alongside another workshop, ‘Thermal Objects’. Dr. Michael Liegl invited me to deliver one of the Keynotes.

My talk is entitled: ‘Haptic Methodologies for Sensing Collectivities’.

We are having what might be termed a ‘haptic moment’. In terms of technology and media, Robert Jütte (2008) has termed this a ‘haptic age’, as we are surrounded by touchscreens, receiving force feedback in phones, game controllers, and smartwatches. In film studies we have also seen the rise of ‘haptic visuality’ and the rediscovery of art history’s relationship between vision and touch. But in terms of social research, those more whole-body forms of hapticity (that is, the inclusion of bodily sensations including, but not limited to, touch) have never quite gone away in anthropology and human geography, for example. They have become augmented at various stages with different emphases and new technologies.

I outline some avenues for involving hapticity, and understanding its limitations, in social research. Firstly, through the use of wearable computing devices and hand-held video, how can embodied sensations be included within videography? How might the experiences of bodies moving through place be conveyed to absent spectators? One recent finding in the methodological literature that engages with videography is the power of group viewing of recorded footage, which works as a prompt for discussing and recognizing distinct sensations in place. Secondly, a major limitation of the ‘mainstream’ hapticity that arises through consumer electronics is that it largely conforms to the neuroanatomically-normative model of the sensory body. I therefore pursue some implications for alternative routes, to consider the pedagogic and experiential potential for engaging with differently-abled bodies, especially blind and vision impaired subjects. The lessons from this are not simply limited to ‘disability’ or disability studies, for a certain strand within haptic media has long involved the crossover of art and engineering, and has explored the inhabitation of alternative sensoria through technological means. Now that we stand at the threshold of another generation of consumer-grade VR, what possibilities might there be for involving individual and collective bodies?

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