Sensuous Anthropology: Sense and Sensibility and the Rehabilitation of Skill

  • Yolanda van Ede University of Amsterdam
Keywords: senses, sensuous anthropology, knowledge, methodology, ethics


Academic interest in the senses has been increasing massively. Particularly in the social sciences and the humanities, the multisensory approach criticises the ocularcentrism as launched by Enlightenment scholars. Studies started drawing attention to other sensory models in everyday life in western societies and in non-western cultures. This essay argues that in order to understand other sensory cultures, the investigator must him/ herself experience sensory perceptions of the Other. Critics may reject this methodology for being subjective, preferring distance and objectivity. This view, however, fosters farreaching consequences. Firstly, it denigrates the epistemologies of the Other, subjecting them to a western interpretation of knowledge. Secondly, it reconfirms power structures within western academia with regard to who is to decide on ‘true’ knowledge. Thirdly, the ethical point made here should be obvious: a denial of the epistemology of the Other runs against the anthropological endeavour, i.e. Verstehen. Finally, clinging to a modernist, western definition of science obstructs its own project in generating new knowledge. Sensuous anthropology is pioneering towards a new global science, but its impact depends on the willingness of other disciplines to give up their tenacious positivistic principles. If not, anthropology may become discarded as ‘art’ or craft, to be excluded from the academia altogether.