Thinking atmospherically: politics and sensory configurations

Authors: Shanti Sumartojo*, RMIT University, Sarah Pink, RMIT University
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: atmosphere, sensory ethnography, affect, politics
Session Type: Paper


In this paper we consider what thinking atmospherically – including through the senses – can open up for how we understand the relationship between politics and space. We argue that atmospheres arise from particular empirical conditions – configurations of people, things, built environments, sensations, imagination and memories – that must be understood as absolutely implicit to them. This carries connotations for what impact atmospheres might carry into the future, what forms of politics they derive from and what new articulations of experience they might make possible. In treating atmosphere as part of a configuration of things and processes that make up a perceptual environment, we particularly attend to how ongoing, emergent and unpredictable sensory encounters can help reconfigure politics, in both the representational sense and in terms of who has the capacity and legitimacy to participate in public space and events. Accordingly, the anchoring of atmosphere in the changeable configurations of our surroundings demands methodologies that attend not only to how they feel, but how atmospheres emerge, and what they mean and how they are perceived by the people who help to constitute them. We will therefore also discuss the methodologies that we have found most useful in thinking atmospherically.

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