Society and Identity
“Asia” has long been represented as an “exotic” and “sensuous” object compared to the “rational” subject of the West. As such, the Asian has been the ‘other’ who is conceptualized through rigorous ethnographic inquiry. However, the recuperation of sensation as a fundamental domain of social theory in sensory anthropology in late 1980s has turned this dynamic into an interesting problem. This is partly due to sensory anthropology’s questioning of the power of language in knowledge production. Critiquing the logo-centric, ocular-centric epistemologies that were pertinent in the long history of anthropology, recent developments in sensory anthropology show a strong trend toward describing “extra-linguistic” realities, questioning the role of signs and language in writing ethnographies of others’ lived experiences.
While such development seems essential to think anew about human subjectivities and sociality, one may ask how might sensory anthropologies look like when “Asias” are not merely a research object, but are both the researcher and the researched. Given that ethnography is a text that is co-constructed through sensual interactions between the researcher and the informants, positioned in a given context and time, how to describe the other’s sensory experiences and its dynamics within the parameters of his/her specific socio-cultural context, instead of comparing it to the sensorium of ocular-centric, logo-centric epistemologies consisting of five senses? What are the different senses that shape modes of being in different settings? What kind of sensory relations/hierarchies do those situations permit, what senses do they repress, and why? What factors/dynamics change established sensory orders? This panel critically engages with these questions through ethnographies from a diverse array of work related to sensory experience such as (but not limited to) art, psychotherapy, medicine and care done by anthropologists based in/working on various parts of South Asia, to explore the potentialities and challenges of sensory anthropology from/among the “Asias.”