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Sensing Senses: Interdisciplinary Studies in Sensory Perception (Feb. 17-19, 2012)
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A Graduate Conference Hosted by German and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Keynote Speaker: Florence Feiereisen (Middlebury College)
At the mention of senses, one thinks of five capabilities used to gather data about one’s environment. This Aristotelian paradigm has dominated Western civilization long enough to establish itself as a truism among many scholars without, as anthropologist David Howe reminds us, “exploring how the senses interact with each other in different combinations and hierarchies.” Recent research in the social sciences and humanities has revealed an increasingly rhizomatic view of sensual worlds, in that the synaesthetic experience has become the norm: colors in film recall tastes, music conveys a sense of acceleration, the eye is fooled into feeling spaces, and so forth.
But to sense is also to act upon. Senses inculcate subjectivities, secure or rebel against social realities, and/or produce notoriously unreliable testimony at legal proceedings. They can be colonized and overloaded, blinded or corrupted, even opened, enticed and remotely enabled. But above all, they are to be historicized, located in the social context and bodies they inhabit or once inhabited.
The fifth biennial graduate student conference in German & Scandinavian Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst invites interdisciplinary paper submissions on the broad topic of the “senses” with an emphasis on framing sites of perception as historically and culturally specific. To medieval scholars, one might ask how sensory experience inflected secular and spiritual worlds. To modern scholars, one could continue this line of thinking in terms of the embodied sensory apparatus of industrial producers and consumers.
To those embarking on digital humanities projects, the relationship between empirical observation and the abstract metrics of the attention economy raises epistemological concerns. All of this work can be placed in dialog with transnational flows as well as asymmetrical power dynamics that have persisted throughout history, and which become the sites of discursive positioning about what can and cannot be sensed.
As “sense” is being seen within a broad context, we welcome paper proposals addressing a variety of themes for an interdisciplinary
discussion of the above questions and more. The field of interest includes, but is not limited to, the following topics:
— the tension between “sense” as perception / knowledge / meaning
— Sinnlosigkeit, meningslösheten, senselessness
— sensing culture & race
— sense and gender
— social regulation of perception via fashion and architecture
— food studies
— sensory overload
— affect and remote viewing
—functions of marginalized senses such as equilibrioception (balance) or olfacception (smell)
— attention economies past, present and future
— socio-political positioning via thick description
— sound and audioception in other media
— re-evaluations of philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer or Ernst Mach
Please e-mail attached proposals of no more than 300 words along with a short biographical paragraph to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 10, 2011.
Some travel support may be available. Participants are encouraged to seek funding for travel within their departments or from outside sources. Please inform us of your financial situation ahead of time and how we might best accommodate your needs.
More detailed information about the conference can be found on our