Remembering My Hat

5th May 2017

Exploring sensory and material methodologies: Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 15:38

Part 2 of a liveblog of a seminar at Brunel University. Part 1 here


Vanessa May and Camilla Lewis, Morgan Centre, Manchester

The use of sensory methods in researching atmosphere and place

Claremont Court – Edinburgh post-war modernist social housing, designed to foster a sense of community, on the edge of the New Town. Much housing sold off in 80s so now quite socially mixed. Modernist housing like this is often seen [in the UK] as unhomely and barren

Research interested in the bodily experiences which contribute to sense of belonging to a place. Difficult to verbalise, so need sensory methods. New mobilities paradigm in soc sci. Sit down methods where talking is the centre of attraction and everything else is pushed to the background (Kusenbach, 2003: 462). ‘Walking interviews’ seen as much better.

But their first interview with each participant was not focused on the sensory but on the biographical and sense of belonging but participants talked a lot about the sensory. Thought that, actually sit-down interviews were just as good at bringing sensory methods to the fore as mobile methods. Three factors help to explain why:

  1. Something particular to Claremont Court
  2. That home-making is inherently sensory
  3. That the interviews were conducted within the home, which was the topic of the interviews.


(cc) kaysgeog

Auditory geographies:

A quiet place. Some disturbances from cobbles and traffic for those who lived abutting the main road but generally described as quiet. Occassional changes e.g. events at the Tattoo and during the Edinburgh Festival.

Sound-proofing in the flats was commented on, both being a victim of other people’s rows and music and worries about your own activities (piano-playing and parties)

Moral issues in noise – good residents and neighbours are quiet. And yet silence can also be distressing and ominous. Being able to hear other people can be reassuring. Listening is as important in apprehending the world as looking.

Light and sunlight:

All participants commented on how lovely and light the flats are (most are south facing, all have large windows and balconies) and how warm the flats and balconies were as a result. Many used the term ‘suntrap’ and compared it to the Mediterranean, especially in contrast to the Edinburgh norm.

Some bits are dark – some stairwells, an underpassage entry. These spaces avoided whenever possible.

Affective qualities of light, especially natural daylight. Safety bound up with light. Same place became unsafe in the night but fine in the daytime. Sense of where the cold bits were in the flats. In the dark, sounds become more significant. Importance of paying attention to emotional impacts of spaces.


Want to rehabilitate the traditional sit-down interview a bit – not a lost cause for engaging people’s sensory imaginations. Sitting is just as much an embodied experience as walking! Can read traditional methods through a sensory lens.


Jen Tarr (LSE)

Sensory and arts-based approaches to chronic pain communication

‘A better pain chart’ by Hyperbole and a half

We know that pain doesn’t necessarily correlate with injury. MRI scans often show damage in pain-free patients. Still can’t see pain in the brain even with fMRI scans.

Self-reports are uni-dimensional – how much, not what other qualities it has.

McGill Pain questionnaire is more multidimensional via adjectives, line drawings etc. but this may actually standardise the language of pain and thus limit descriptions.

Unhelpful binaries around pain communication

  • Real/unreal
  • Physical/psychological
  • Mind/body
  • Visible/invisible


(cc) Krisztina Tordai

What might arts-based experiences contribute?

Held fortnightly workshops over 2 months with 6-13 participants

22 participants, 17 of whom only managed to attend one of the workshops (chronic pain!) + 3 researchers and 2 specialists to lead each workshop.

20h video recordings, fieldnotes, arts outputs (drawings, photographs, sound recordings) and evaluation forms.

Workshops as performative social science (Law and Urry, 2004). Workshop foci:

  1. Imaging and imagining chronic pain – about mri
  2. Body Mapping
  3. Soundscapes
  4. Spatial mapping

Different ways of relating to your pain. Someone with nerve pain that fees like electric shocks, thought about humorous ways of earthing the shock (balloons attached to a electrical plug and cable).

Sound was a really good metaphor for chronic pain. Often very aversive sounds like spoons being scraped on grater. Sound artist created a soundscape that combined these sounds into a listenable form – goal not to eliminate the sounds/pain but to rework them into something bearable.

Workshops enabled new questions about pain:

  • Is it inside you or something that comes from outside?
  • Is it more helpful to tune in, building awareness, or to shut it out and abstract yourself
  • Is the pain an inevitable part of you?
  • How and to what extent has pain shaped your personhood?
  • Can there be a ‘you’ without pain?

People gave very different answers, partly to do with the type of pain but also to do with how they conceptualised it.

Methodological outcomes:

  1. Prioritise process over product. Had originally intended to display results of workshops but concluded this wasn’t appropriate (too personal, worried about making them look stupid for naïve styles of drawing – these weren’t artists)
  2. Co-constituting what you aim to measure
  3. Importance of uncertainty in disrupting established roles and narratives. Being out of your comfort zone as a researcher, not being in charge because the specialist workshop leaders were (and sometimes said things the researchers didn’t agree with).
  4. ‘Liveness’ of improvised space



Think of the outputs as versions rather than representations? [not sure that helps me]

[The old issue of how do you analyse the non-textual]





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