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(L04) Exploring the senses in hunter-gatherer societies

Convenor: Jaroslava PanakovaComenius University, Bratislava

Discussants: Sveta Yamin, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Igor Pasternak (artist, Fairbanks)

Abstract: The senses have been investigated as mediators of relationships between people and the world. This panel aims to explore how the senses act as perceptual forces in hunter-gatherers’ subsistence and how they can be influenced by contextual factors peculiar to the hunter-gatherers’ ecocultural environments.

Keywords: senses, sensory research, adaptation, research-creation projects, social change

Format: show-and-tell followed by roundtable

Precirculated materials: text, video

 

Contemporary hunter-gatherers have been confronted with a number of drastic changes in the ecological, social, economic, and political regimes. These contextual factors may have had impact on ways of sensing. Numerous observations (Beer 2000, Burenhult & Kruspe 2016, Howes 2004, Lye 2004, Majid & Burenhult 2014, Ingold 2010, 2011 etc.) reflect on the senses in relationship to cognition, meaning making, and linguistic coding. In these explorations, the capacity of the senses is often seen as mediation of the relationship between hunter-gatherers and the world.

This panel explores the senses as synesthetic perceptual systems that act as driving forces in hunter-gatherers’ subsistence. We aim to reflect on how the sensory modalities combine differently under particular circumstances and how the contextual factors of the hunter-gatherers’ environment affect the sensory processes. We seek to reflect upon the senses in hunter-gatherer societies as explored through, but not limited to sensory environment (visionscapes, smellscapes etc.), folk expertise, and representations. What specific roles do the senses play in hunter-gatherers’ subsistence? What external contextual factors in hunter-gatherers’ environments influence sensory use? What cultural constraints, specific for hunter-gatherers, have impact on the relationships between various perceptual sensory modalities? How can sensory research stimulate hunter-gatherer studies?

Our panel takes a form of a lab in which contributors—such as anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists, curators, designers, and artists—convey work in progress such as original data, living stories, concepts, and technologies, while developing a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and multi-sensorial platform. We aim to attract works which focus on empirical documentation of intercultural knowledge about and through the senses and/or research-creation projects at the intersections between research, art, social practice, and knowledge production. As a result of our panel, we envision co-authoring one or more comparative research articles, which would show the centrality of the senses in hunter-gatherers societies.

This session is divided into two parts: (1) The first part follows a show-and-tell format, in which each participant will briefly introduce their work. We would like to encourage researchers to present their work in the formats, however unusual or unique they might seem, that highlight the senses that dominate their research methodologies (sight, olfaction, haptics, hearing, taste...). (2) The second part is a roundtable in a free-form but moderated discussion based on questions and issues raised by the speakers. Audience members are strongly encouraged to remain until the end of the session and to pose additional questions and comments of their own.

 

 

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