Geographies of Sweat

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Plaza Ballroom F, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Organizers: Weiqiang Lin
Chairs: Weiqiang Lin

Call for Submissions

This session aims to build on provocative but limited writings on sweat and engage with the geographies of sweat in a more wide-ranging and sustained manner. Besides its associations with feelings, affects and subjectivities at the bodily scale, sweat also has the potential to be read as a wider metaphor that reflects the human condition in contemporary times. For instance, as an extension of effort, sweat has at times come to connote toil, and is able to serve as a leitmotif for contemplating the various exploitative extractions of labour by capital in low-skilled, labour-intensive industries (e.g. sweatshops, named after the exploitative subcontracting process in the tailoring business). Sweat is also often culturally equated with fear, guilt, nervousness, and disease, and is used as a sign—especially in an age of artificial intelligence—for divining behavioural futures in security situations. In religion, sweat is, by contrast, characterized as a curse—a banishment to stress and anxiety that may, to some extent, be symptomatic of a modern world experiencing speed-ups and multifarious demands.

This call welcomes both conceptual and empirical papers willing to engage with sweat as a category that has implications across multiple geographical scales. Presentations could draw on any number of thematic fields such as, but not limited to:

- the condition of labour in the modern economy

- the politics of sweat and its injustices or exclusions

- automation, machine learning and other technological interpretations of sweat

- medical significations and appropriations of sweat

- bodily comports and subjectivities (e.g. masculinities, sporting cultures)

- sweat along racial, gender and classed lines

- sweat and mobility cultures (e.g. cycling)

- sweat and affect / affective relations

- philosophies of sweat

If interested, please submit a 250-word abstract to Dr. Weiqiang Lin at no later than 18 October 2019. All accepted contributors need to register for the conference and provide their PIN to the organizer by 10 November 2019 in order to be included in the session.


As a biological-corporeal response, sweat may seem like an ordinary activation of the body’s eccrine glands to produce thermoregulation. Yet, despite its prevalence, geographical research has paid very little attention to this phenomenon. This is notwithstanding fact that people’s vocabularies—at least in English—are replete with idioms of sweat and sweating: from “don’t sweat the small stuff” to “giving my blood, sweat and tears” to “I’m sweating like a pig”. These linguistic turns not only suggest the commonness of sweat as a point of relation in everyday life, but more crucially alludes to the deeply cultural ways in which societies make sense of the world through sweat.

As one of a few exceptions focusing on this subject, Gordon Waitt (2014: 667) argues that sweat “occupies an intimate place in our lives”. For him, sweat is a particularly integral part of “the tensions and possibilities of the spatiality of subjectivity” (ibid), able to conjure up complex assemblages of physiological, psychological and sociological affects that go on to inscribe meaning in humanly relations (see also Johnson and Longhurst, 2010). On another register, scholars of architecture have also tangentially referred to sweat as the antithesis of comfort—a form of dirt and an unsightly deposition on the skin—that legitimizes particular forms of artificial environments, not least air-conditioned ones (Hitchings and Lee, 2008). In mobilities studies, sweat is furthermore used loosely as a shorthand for (unwanted) corporeal or physical effort, an aversion that is becoming more pronounced in a time of “active mobility” (Bahrami and Rigal, 2017).


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction Weiqiang Lin National University of Singapore 1 8:00 AM
Presenter JULIE ARCHAMBAULT*, , Fitness and the changing geographies of sweat in urban Mozambique: an anthropological perspective 15 8:01 AM
Presenter Rachel Carrico*, University of Florida, “If You Lean on the Wall, It’s Wet:’ Sweat, Dance, and Place in 1970s New Orleans” 15 8:16 AM
Presenter Elspeth Oppermann*, Ludwig Maximilians Universität, The disciplinary biopolitics of sweat: scaling the slippery slope between environment and employment 15 8:31 AM
Presenter Weiqiang Lin*, National University of Singapore, Sweatless Diplomacy: Labour and the Affective Atmospheres of Aviation Geopolitics 14 8:46 AM
Discussant James Ash Newcastle University 15 9:00 AM

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