Anaesthetic Geographies I: enclosure

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Leila Dawney, David Bissell, Elizabeth Straughan
Chairs: David Bissell


For over four decades, feminist, relational and non-representational geographies have impressed the importance of sensation as a key object of analysis, and for theorising the transitional capacities of bodies. More than a residual imprint of worldly events, sensation has come to be understood variously as a mediator of body and environment relations, a bodily barometer for navigating events and encounters, and a way of rethinking material agencies. Recent geographies of attunement and relation, for example, call for researchers’ bodies to be hypersensitised to scenes and atmospheres, or to the more-than-human, assuming a foundational capacity to be affected by the world.

Yet within this expansive and rich body of work, much less has been said about the political and ethical stakes of anaesthesia, and about the status of desensitisation, estrangement and alienation for understanding socio-spatial formations. Such conditions are far from absent from the broader social sciences: Marx’s alienated subject under capitalism, Simmel’s blasé outlook, Frankfurt School critiques of the culture industry and work on contemporary conditions of self-medication and overstimulation have laid important paths for thinking the present condition through forms of disconnection, numbness and anomie. Recently, a shift towards the slow has begun to rethink the temporalities of power and violence, moving away from intensity of sensation and spectacle towards the insidious and attritional.

This session explores the theme of desensitisation from a range of geographical perspectives. The papers variously explore desensitisation through forms of ‘flat’ affect associated with life under austerity (Wilkinson and Ortega‐Alcáza, 2019, Berlant, 2011); as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (Moss and Prince, 2017) and depression (Cvetkovich, 2012), through sensory deprivation relating to incarceration (Moran, 2016); through technological distancing such as drone warfare, and online forms of sexual violence, through the enrolment of desensitised bodies into political processes (cf. Dawney, 2019); and through how desensitisation might be an operative logic at play in forms of consumer culture and built form (Jensen, 2009), contributing to lives of ease and convenience.

Conceptually, the papers variously develop feminist geographies of differential bodily capacities for sensing (Hall and Wilton, 2017). Other papers address geographies of habit, boredom and repetition (Dewsbury, 2015; Anderson, 2015), and forms of losing touch or being ‘out of touch’ (Dixon and Straughan, 2010). Further still, other papers consider desensitisation in terms of the politics of limits (Rose, Bissell and Harrison, 2021).


Type Details Minutes
Presenter Angela Smith*, UNSW, Deportation, air travel and unfeeling 15
Presenter Jennifer Turner*, University of Liverpool, The atmospherics of incarceration 15
Presenter Gregory Donovan*, Fordham University, The Design (An)Aesthetics of Data-Driven Domesticity 15
Presenter Harriet Hawkins*, Royal Holloway, University of London, ‘Data depleted darkness’ : Anaesthetic undergrounds? 15
Discussant Ian Shaw The University of Glasgow 15

To access contact information login