Sensory Ethnography

Sensory ethnography, in particular, draws on phenomenological approaches to space and place through sensory experiences and affective learning about the past and the future. Sensory ethnography was proposed as a part of PAR (‘participatory action research’) to provide practitioners with the tools to become critical interpretive researchers of their own lived experience. Within a wider anthropological methods framework, based on action research and participation, however, it goes beyond a phenomenological exercise alone. In our projects, it was driven by objectives such as fostering critical thinking and improving digital and data literacy among the students. It is both a seemingly eclectic combination of video-diaries, found-sound, mapping and drawing, and exacting research based on creative reflections on experiencing space.  

Students were guided to become, firstly, qualitative researchers of their own experience; secondly, to identify critically how identities, events, and cultural formations are quantified; and, thirdly, to recognise and interrogate the ways their personal behaviours, activities and relationships—in the form of information—might be harvested and stored. We encouraged questions around the relationship between the social position of the researcher in ethnographic research, the power relationship between the researcher and the group being studied. Shifting these configurations and dynamics in the research to produce a collective, communal and collaborative research starts with self reflection on the  positionality, who speaks and whose stories are silenced. Furthermore, sensory ethnography 

and the “ focus on place … works as an analytical construct to conceptualise fundamental aspects of how both ethnographers and participants in ethnographic research are emplaced in social, sensory and material contexts, characterised by and productive of particular power configurations, that they experience thigh their whole bodies and that are constantly changing (even if in very minor ways).” (Pink 2009: 38)

Pink, Sarah. Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage (2009)