Sensory studies arises at the conjuncture (and within) the fields of anthropology • sociology • history • archeology • geography • communications • religion • philosophy • literature • art history • museology • film • mixed media • performance • phenomenology • disability • aesthetics • architecture • urbanism • design

Sensory Studies can also be divided along sensory lines into, for example, visual culture, auditory culture (or sound studies), smell culture, taste culture and the culture of touch, not to mention the sixth sense (however it might be defined)

Understanding Atmospheres: Culture, Materiality and the Texture of the In-between

March 16-17, 2012

Keynote speakers:

Professor Gernot Böhme, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Professor Chris Gosden, University of Oxford
Dr Ben Anderson, Durham University
Dr Inge Daniels, University of Oxford

Organizers: Mikkel Bille (University of Copenhagen), Tim Flohr Sørensen (University of Cambridge), Peter Bjerregaard (Moesgård Museum), Anne Line Dalsgård (Aarhus University).

Venue: University of Aarhus, The Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics, Moesgård Museum

Call for abstracts

“Atmospheres are indeterminate above all as regards their ontological status. We are not sure whether we should attribute them to the objects or environments from which they proceed or to the subjects who experience them. We are also unsure where they are. They seem to fill the space with a certain tone of feeling like a haze.” (Böhme 1993: 114)

The concept “atmosphere” and equivalents such as ambience and aura, have increasingly become objects of study in a range of disciplines from architecture and aesthetics to anthropology and archaeology. This turn is largely inspired by the work of German philosopher Gernot Böhme coupled with reference to the material and phenomenological focus in many fields of social science and humanities over the past two decades.

Located at the intersection of things and people, atmospheres may be defined as a potential, which has to emerge or to be made effective at the conceptual as well as the sensuous level. Someone has to experience an atmosphere for it to exist. An atmosphere is neither an object, nor a subject; neither passive nor neutral, but rather may act as silent interventions into behavioural and experiential practices and interpretations. It is a total phenomenon, largely non-representational and hence difficult to put into words. Nevertheless, atmospheres are manifested in human bodies and may be experienced as emotions, flushes, heartbeats, tears and smiles, which are all formal evidence of a relationship between subjects and their environment. The question, in turn, is thus how we can study atmospheres, both as experience and analytical tool?

This two-day conference welcomes papers that explore the methodological and analytical dimensions of atmosphere for example in ethnographic or geographical fieldwork, in museological studies, or in the study of archaeological remains, in response to one or more of the following questions:

What kind of concept is atmosphere, and what does it help us understand? How do we recognize atmospheres, where do we locate them and what sets them apart from other qualitative experiences of the environment? What components come into effect in the experience of an atmosphere? What role do cultural norms and expectations play in the orchestration of such atmospheres? What is the quality of the relational configurations, the toning of places, and the tuning of people, in recognitions of atmospheres? How are physical manifestations in bodies and spaces labelled, explained or methodologically explored? These questions cannot simply be answered on a general level; they must always be explored in relation to specific situations and socio-spatial environments, and carry methodological implications that we as researchers have to deal with in describing social life worlds.

We invite submissions grounded in original research, which consider specific atmospheres, conceptual discussions or methodological questions. By this, the conference seeks to contribute to the burgeoning field of alternative methodologies and critical ontologies within anthropology and related fields.

Keynote speakers have 45 minutes and 15 minutes discussion. Other presenters have 30 minutes with 15 minutes of discussion.

Abstracts (200-400 words) should be submitted by November 15, 2011, to Final acceptance December 15.

Practical information

Registration for conference: send a mail to Mikkel Bille,, by January 15. Please write “Understanding Atmospheres participation” in subject line.

Due to limited seats, we operate a first come first serve principle for non-presenters.

Conference dinner: the conference is free of charge, but if you wish to participate in the conference dinner (price 400 DKK), please let us know when registering.