Call: Sensory Worlds: Environment, Value and the Multi-Sensory

Call for Conference Papers, Panelists and Installations

SENSORY WORLDS: Environment, Value and the Multi-Sensory

University of Edinburgh
7-9 December 2011

Full details at:

Conference Theme

It is through our senses that we investigate, navigate and know the world around us and the other beings, forces and phenomena that constitute it in its rich and lively variety. To consider the nature of sensory being is to be confronted by questions that examine the ways in which we engage with our environments and those that interrogate the very nature of embodiment. Constantly at work and yet often undervalued, the sensorium is broader and more complex than the traditional Western classifications of the five senses allow. Intermingling and constantly shifting with our attention and experiences, our senses orient us in the world (though sometimes they also disorient us). We sense the world and are at once both part of it and other from it. Moving through a terrain, feeling the resistance of the ground beneath our feet or the push of the crowd, or smelling the fumes of diesel and the throbbing heat of a machine engine, or quietly tracing the intricate lines of wood carvings made by another hand in another time, or tasting the sharp or bitter flavours of foods unfamiliar to the palate, or re-imagining the suffered pain of an ugly injury; all such episodes and more raise the question of how our senses play a role in human flourishing and well-being. Furthermore, they illuminate the ways in which our actions, values and ways of understanding the world are rooted in our sentience – which is ever becoming and allowing of us to exceed ourselves.

Sensory Worlds engages with these and other issues; considering ‘worlds’ in a particularly ecological light in order to ask: what contribution can a sensorially-engaged Humanities make to environmental thinking and action? The conference will examine the multi-sensory and will reflect upon the historical, contemporary and possible future relations between the senses (from balance to taste to the haptic and beyond). It will be an interdisciplinary, interrogative and exploratory meeting that will make space for sensorially-engaged scholarship and practice, and will facilitate discursive and constructive meetings between a variety of scholars working on themes related to embodiment, ecology and value. Contributions are invited from those working within the humanities, arts and social sciences. We are interested in contributions that will themselves embody alternatives to the presuppositions common to Western twentieth century engagement with the world such as anthropocentrism, mind-body dualism, and isolated subjectivity.

Conference Structure

The conference will consist of four different structural elements: Paper Sessions, Panel Sessions, Keynotes and Installations. Drawing upon traditions, strong in Edinburgh, of conversation and conviviality, the conference aims to allow generously for both formal and informal discussions and dialogues. To this end, scheduling will allow for discussion time after all presentations and for breaks during which conference attendees will be invited to eat and socialise together.

Keynote presentations will be delivered by David Abram, author of ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ and ‘Becoming Animal’ and Iain Borden from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. These lectures will be open to the public as part of our effort to engage with wider issues and audiences, and will be followed by Q&A sessions.

Invitation to Respond/Call for Papers

This call invites responses to the main theme as described above, and asks that these are submitted to one of the following elements: Paper Sessions, Panel Sessions or Installations.

These different elements or strands, and their sub-themes, are described below. We would ask that submissions clearly identify the element that the submission refers to, and, where appropriate, which sub-theme within that element the response is aimed at.

All submissions should be emailed as attachments to and should also be accompanied by a short CV (max. 2 pages). Please include either ‘paper’, ‘panel’ or ‘installation’ and your surname in the subject line of your email.

Paper Sessions

Paper sessions will run sequentially throughout the three days of the conference. Each one will allow for a number of 20 minute papers on and discussion around the session’s sub-theme, and it is hoped that some continuity and progression will develop from session to session. Papers that involve (inter- or multi-disciplinary) collaborations between multiple authors are welcomed. We invite abstracts (400 words maximum) that respond to one of the following sub-themes: 

  • Animal Senses (human and non-human; species embodiment; animality; communication and expression; consciousness; morality; senses across species; habitat; environment and behaviour)
  • Technology and the Wasting and/or Enhancement of the Senses (de-sensitizing; loss; over-stimulation; technological mediation; progress; health; the cyborg; the haptic; atrophy of the senses; new horizons of perception; renovation of the senses)
  • Nature, Self and Society (relationality; identity; formation of self; interdependence; resilience; gender; self and other; embodiment and being; ecology)
  • Value, Action and Environmental Engagement (Humanities engagement with environmental issues; feeling and motivation; making; participation; rights and responsibilities; resonance; rights; movement(s))
  • Historical and Future Senses (period senses; bodies and the sensory organs; memory; time and space; how the senses have been understood throughout the ages; transformation; medicine, science and discovery; rationality)
  • The Imagination and the (Inter)Play of the Senses (common sense; synaesthesia; intervention; beyond ‘the five’; the sixth sense; play; creativity; metaphor; empathy; intermingling senses; the uncanny)

Panel Sessions

Six hour-long panel sessions will take place during the conference. These chaired sessions will see three speakers present very short position statements (of around ten minutes each) made in response to the session’s particular sub-theme, before the floor is opened to discussion with each other and the audience. We invite short position statements (max. 300 words) that respond to one of the following sub-themes:

  • Virtual Reality – What of simulation, stimulation, ‘false’ appearance and value in the pursuit of human flourishing?
  • Disgust – What is the role of the unpleasant and the abhorrent? Considering such as stench, pain and the disconcerting in realtion to the senses and the environment.
  • Modern Sensibilities – Are there ever (or have there ever been) changes in our senses or are there just changes and continuities in the ways that we conceive of, appreciate and utilise them?
  • (Re)connection – Is humanity increasingly disconnected from the natural world, and if so what does this mean and is reconnection then desirable, possible, happening?
  • Desire – What of need, want, stuff, greed, love, possession, sharing and consumption – all in a limited world?
  • Political Senses – How are the senses political, if at all? Where do power, hierarchy, governance and democracy come into the sensory environment-worlds in question?


Proposals are invited for installations or experiential works that will be on show or be running throughout the conference in the New Media Art venue Inspace. This element of the conference is designed to allow for experimental and alternative forms of exploration of the senses and the environment in addition to more varied forms of presentation of research and practice on this same topic. Proposals for pieces/happenings/performances that respond to the general conference theme are invited and should be submitted in brief statements of intent/design that consist of no more than 500 words and 3 images or audio/video clips. Collaborations are welcome here and a single, collective submission should be made per piece (ie. not one per individual collaborator), although brief CVs from all are still requested.

Postgraduate Writing-Up Prizes

Included in this call is the announcement of a competition for two postgraduate writing-up prizes that are linked to the wider Sawyer series. These prizes are for postgraduate students in the late/writing-up stages of their doctoral studies (ie. third or final year) and applications are open to any student enrolled at a British university in such a position who can demonstrate that their work is relevant to the series’ theme. It is expected that the awards will be of £1000 each, that the prizewinners will present a paper on their research at the conference, and that the prizes will be officially awarded during the event. To apply for a prize please send an abstract submission for the paper session (400 words max.) and a one page description of your doctoral research and its fit with the themes of the Sawyer series, plus your CV and details of your postgraduate funding arrangements, to Please include ‘Postgrad’ and your surname in the subject of the email.


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